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2004   Volume No 7- pages 27-34

Title: A three-dimensional finite element model of an adherent eukaryotic cell

Author: J. G. McGarry and P.J. Prendergast

Address: Centre for Bioengineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

E-mail: pprender at tcd.ie

Key Words: Cell model, finite elements, tensegrity, microtubules, actin, prestress, cellular deformation, nuclear deformation, mechanobiology, cell biomechanics.

Publication date: April 16th 2004

Abstract: Mechanical stimulation is known to cause alterations in the behaviour of cells adhering to a substrate. The mechanisms by which forces are transduced into biological responses within the cell remain largely unknown. Since cellular deformation is likely involved, further understanding of the biomechanical origins of alterations in cellular response can be aided by the use of computational models in describing cellular structural behaviour and in determining cellular deformation due to imposed loads of various magnitudes. In this paper, a finite element modelling approach that can describe the biomechanical behaviour of adherent eukaryotic cells is presented. It fuses two previous modelling approaches by incorporating, in an idealised geometry, all cellular components considered structurally significant, i.e. prestressed cytoskeleton, cytoplasm, nucleus and membrane components. The aim is to determine if we can use this model to describe the non-linear structural behaviour of an adherent cell and to determine the contribution of the various cellular components to cellular stability. Results obtained by applying forces (in the picoNewton range) to the model membrane nodes suggest a key role for the cytoskeleton in determining cellular stiffness. The model captures non-linear structural behaviours such as strain hardening and prestress effects (in the region of receptor sites), and variable compliance along the cell surface. The role of the cytoskeleton in stiffening a cell during the process of cell spreading is investigated by applying forces to five increasingly spread cell geometries. Parameter studies reveal that material properties of the cytoplasm (elasticity and compressibility) also have a large influence on cellular stiffness. The computational model of a single cell developed here is proposed as one that is sufficiently complex to capture the non-linear behaviours of the cell response to forces whilst not being so complex that the parameters cannot be specified. The model could be very useful in computing cellular structural behaviour in response to various in vitro mechanical stimuli (e.g. fluid flow, substrate strain), or for use in algorithms that attempt to simulate mechanobiological processes.

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Last modified December 18, 2012

Open Access / Author retains copyright

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