For cells to adapt to different tissues and changes in tissue mechanics, they must be able to respond to mechanical cues by changing their gene expression patterns. Biochemical signaling pathways for these responses have been elucidated, and recent evidence points to the involvement of force-induced deformation of the nucleus. However, it is still unclear how physical cues received at the plasma membrane (PM) spatiotemporally integrate to the functional chromatin organization of the cell nucleus. To investigate this issue, we applied mechanical forces through magnetic particles adhered to the PM of single cells and mapped the accompanying changes in actin polymerization, nuclear morphology, chromatin remodeling, and nuclear transport of soluble signaling intermediates using high-resolution fluorescence anisotropy imaging. Using this approach, we show the timescales associated with force-induced polymerization of actin and changes in the F/G actin ratio resulting in nuclear translocation of the G-actin-associated transcriptional cofactor, megakaryoblastic acute leukemia factor-1 (MKL). Further, this method of measuring nuclear organization at high spatiotemporal resolution with simultaneous force application revealed the physical propagation of forces to the nucleus, resulting in changes to chromatin organization, followed by nuclear deformation. We also describe a quantitative model that incorporates active stresses and chemical kinetics to evaluate the observed timescales. Our work suggests that mechanical activation of cells is accompanied by distinct timescales involved in the reorganization of actin and chromatin assembly, followed by translocation of transcription cofactors from the cytoplasm to the nucleus.
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