Membrane tension in rapidly moving cells is determined by cytoskeletal forces

Arnon D. Lieber, Shlomit Yehudai-Resheff, Erin L. Barnhart, Julie A. Theriot, Kinneret Keren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Membrane tension plays an essential role in cell motility. The load imposed by the tensed membrane restrains actin polymerization, promotes rear retraction, and influences membrane transport. Moreover, membrane tension is crucial for large-scale coordination of cell boundary dynamics. Despite its importance, little is known about how membrane tension is set and regulated in cells. The prevailing hypothesis is that membrane tension is largely controlled by membrane-cytoskeleton adhesion and/or changes in membrane area. Results In this work, we measure the apparent membrane tension in rapidly moving fish epithelial keratocytes under normal and perturbed conditions with a tether-pulling assay. We find that enlargement of the cell surface area by fusion with giant unilamellar vesicles (GUVs) has only minor effects on membrane tension and on cell movement. However, modulation of the cytoskeletal forces has a substantial influence on tension: reduction of the actin-pushing forces along the cell's leading edge leads to a significant decrease in membrane tension, whereas increase of the strength of adhesion and/or decrease of myosin-induced contraction leads to higher tension. Conclusions We find that the membrane tension in rapidly moving keratocytes is primarily determined by a mechanical force balance between the cell membrane and cytoskeletal forces. Our results highlight the role of membrane tension as a global mechanical regulator of cell behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1409-1417
Number of pages9
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number15
StatePublished - 5 Aug 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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