Force generation within cells, mediated by motor proteins along cytoskeletal networks, maintains the function of multicellular structures during homeostasis and when generating collective forces. Here, we describe the use of chromatin dynamics to detect cellular force propagation [a technique termed SINK (sensors from intranuclear kinetics)] and investigate the force response of cells to disruption of the monolayer and changes in substrate stiffness. We find that chromatin dynamics change in a substrate stiffness-dependent manner within epithelial monolayers. We also investigate point defects within monolayers to map the impact on the strain field of a heterogeneous monolayer. We find that cell monolayers behave as a colloidal assembly rather than as a continuum since the data fit an exponential decay; the lateral characteristic length of recovery from the mechanical defect is ∼50 µm for cells with a 10 µm spacing. At distances greater than this characteristic length, cells behave similarly to those in a fully intact monolayer. This work demonstrates the power of SINK to investigate diseases including cancer and atherosclerosis that result from single cells or heterogeneities in monolayers.This article has an associated First Person interview with the first author of the paper.
© 2018. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.