Tissue gets stiffer when it’s compressed. That property can become even more pronounced with injury or disease, which is why doctors palpate tissue as part of a diagnosis, such as when they check for lumps in a cancer screening. That stiffening response is a long-standing biomedical paradox, however: Tissue consists of cells within a complex network of fibers, and common sense dictates that when you push the ends of a string together, it loosens tension, rather than increasing it.
Now, in a study published in Nature, led by Paul Janmey and Vivek Shenoy, researchers have solved this mystery by better understanding the mechanical interplay between that fiber network and the cells it contains.
The researchers found that when tissue is compressed, the cells inside expand laterally, pulling on attached fibers and putting more overall tension on the network. Targeting the proteins that connect cells to the surrounding fiber network might therefore be the optimal way of reducing overall tissue stiffness, a goal in medical treatments for everything from cancer to obesity.
Read more at Penn Engineering.