Cell-to-cell adhesions are crucial in maintaining the structural and functional integrity of cardiac cells. Little is known about the mechanosensitivity and mechanotransduction of cell-to-cell interactions. Most studies of cardiac mechanotransduction and myofibrillogenesis have focused on cell-extracellular matrix (ECM)-specific interactions. This study assesses the direct role of intercellular adhesion, specifically that of N-cadherin-mediated mechanotransduction, on the morphology and internal organization of neonatal ventricular cardiac myocytes. The results show that cadherin-mediated cell attachments are capable of eliciting a cytoskeletal network response similar to that of integrin-mediated force response and transmission, affecting myofibrillar organization, myocyte shape, and cortical stiffness. Traction forces mediated by N-cadherin were shown to be comparable to those sustained by ECM. The directional changes in predicted traction forces as a function of imposed loads (gel stiffness) provide the added evidence that N-cadherin is a mechanoresponsive adhesion receptor. Strikingly, the mechanical sensitivity response (gain) in terms of the measured cell-spread area as a function of imposed load (adhesive substrate rigidity) was consistently higher for N-cadherin-coated surfaces compared with ECM protein-coated surfaces. In addition, the cytoskeletal architecture of myocytes on an N-cadherin adhesive microenvironment was characteristically different from that on an ECM environment, suggesting that the two mechanotransductive cell adhesion systems may play both independent and complementary roles in myocyte cytoskeletal spatial organization. These results indicate that cell-to-cell-mediated force perception and transmission are involved in the organization and development of cardiac structure and function
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