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      A Mechanical Design Principle for Tissue Structure and Function in the Airway Tree

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      PLoS Computational Biology

      Public Library of Science

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          Abstract

          With every breath, the dynamically changing mechanical pressures must work in unison with the cells and soft tissue structures of the lung to permit air to efficiently traverse the airway tree and undergo gas exchange in the alveoli. The influence of mechanics on cell and tissue function is becoming apparent, raising the question: how does the airway tree co-exist within its mechanical environment to maintain normal cell function throughout its branching structure of diminishing dimensions? We introduce a new mechanical design principle for the conducting airway tree in which mechanotransduction at the level of cells is driven to orchestrate airway wall structural changes that can best maintain a preferred mechanical microenvironment. To support this principle, we report in vitro radius-transmural pressure relations for a range of airway radii obtained from healthy bovine lungs and model the data using a strain energy function together with a thick-walled cylinder description. From this framework, we estimate circumferential stresses and incremental Young's moduli throughout the airway tree. Our results indicate that the conducting airways consistently operate within a preferred mechanical homeostatic state, termed mechanical homeostasis, that is characterized by a narrow range of circumferential stresses and Young's moduli. This mechanical homeostatic state is maintained for all airways throughout the tree via airway wall dimensional and mechanical relationships. As a consequence, cells within the airway walls throughout the airway tree experience similar oscillatory strains during breathing that are much smaller than previously thought. Finally, we discuss the potential implications of how the maintenance of mechanical homeostasis, while facilitating healthy tissue-level alterations necessary for maturation, may lead to airway wall structural changes capable of chronic asthma.

          Author Summary

          With every breath, mechanical pressures change in the lung and permit air to efficiently traverse the airway tree and undergo gas exchange. These pressure variations also influence cell and tissue function, raising the question: how does the airway tree co-exist within its mechanical environment to maintain normal cell function throughout its branching structure of diminishing dimensions? We introduce a new mechanical design principle for the conducting airway tree in which mechanotransduction, the process that converts mechanical forces on cells to biochemical signals, is driven to orchestrate tissue-level structural changes that can best restore a preferred mechanical microenvironment; a concept termed mechanical homeostasis. We report in vitro mechanical properties for a range of airway sizes and present a mathematical model that describes the data. Our results indicate that airways indeed consistently operate within a preferred mechanical homeostatic state. We further describe how this mechanical homeostasis while facilitating healthy tissue-level alterations necessary for maturation can inadvertently lead to airway wall structural changes capable of chronic asthma.

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          Most cited references 23

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          Cellular mechanotransduction: putting all the pieces together again.

          Analysis of cellular mechanotransduction, the mechanism by which cells convert mechanical signals into biochemical responses, has focused on identification of critical mechanosensitive molecules and cellular components. Stretch-activated ion channels, caveolae, integrins, cadherins, growth factor receptors, myosin motors, cytoskeletal filaments, nuclei, extracellular matrix, and numerous other structures and signaling molecules have all been shown to contribute to the mechanotransduction response. However, little is known about how these different molecules function within the structural context of living cells, tissues, and organs to produce the orchestrated cellular behaviors required for mechanosensation, embryogenesis, and physiological control. Recent work from a wide range of fields reveals that organ, tissue, and cell anatomy are as important for mechanotransduction as individual mechanosensitive proteins and that our bodies use structural hierarchies (systems within systems) composed of interconnected networks that span from the macroscale to the nanoscale in order to focus stresses on specific mechanotransducer molecules. The presence of isometric tension (prestress) at all levels of these multiscale networks ensures that various molecular scale mechanochemical transduction mechanisms proceed simultaneously and produce a concerted response. Future research in this area will therefore require analysis, understanding, and modeling of tensionally integrated (tensegrity) systems of mechanochemical control.
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            Balancing forces: architectural control of mechanotransduction.

            All cells exist within the context of a three-dimensional microenvironment in which they are exposed to mechanical and physical cues. These cues can be disrupted through perturbations to mechanotransduction, from the nanoscale-level to the tissue-level, which compromises tensional homeostasis to promote pathologies such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. The mechanisms of such perturbations suggest that a complex interplay exists between the extracellular microenvironment and cellular function. Furthermore, sustained disruptions in tensional homeostasis can be caused by alterations in the extracellular matrix, allowing it to serve as a mechanically based memory-storage device that can perpetuate a disease or restore normal tissue behaviour.
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              Universal physical responses to stretch in the living cell.

              With every beat of the heart, inflation of the lung or peristalsis of the gut, cell types of diverse function are subjected to substantial stretch. Stretch is a potent stimulus for growth, differentiation, migration, remodelling and gene expression. Here, we report that in response to transient stretch the cytoskeleton fluidizes in such a way as to define a universal response class. This finding implicates mechanisms mediated not only by specific signalling intermediates, as is usually assumed, but also by non-specific actions of a slowly evolving network of physical forces. These results support the idea that the cell interior is at once a crowded chemical space and a fragile soft material in which the effects of biochemistry, molecular crowding and physical forces are complex and inseparable, yet conspire nonetheless to yield remarkably simple phenomenological laws. These laws seem to be both universal and primitive, and thus comprise a striking intersection between the worlds of cell biology and soft matter physics.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Role: Editor
                Journal
                PLoS Comput Biol
                PLoS Comput. Biol
                plos
                ploscomp
                PLoS Computational Biology
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                1553-734X
                1553-7358
                May 2013
                May 2013
                30 May 2013
                : 9
                : 5
                Affiliations
                Department of Biomedical Engineering, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
                University of Virginia, United States of America
                Author notes

                The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: ASL KRL BS. Performed the experiments: ASL. Analyzed the data: ASL KRL BS. Wrote the paper: ASL KRL BS.

                Article
                PCOMPBIOL-D-12-01859
                10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003083
                3667774
                23737742

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Pages: 9
                Funding
                This work was supported by the NIH HL-096797 and HL-098976. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
                Categories
                Research Article
                Biology
                Biophysics
                Biomechanics
                Tissue Mechanics
                Engineering
                Bioengineering
                Biomedical Engineering

                Quantitative & Systems biology

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