Continuum mechanical model of a cell traction force assay

Robert T Tranquillo, Alice G. Moon

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


The reorganization of fibrillar protein networks in the extracellular matrix (ECM) of soft tissue or in reconstituted collagen gels by connective tissue cells is dramatic manifestation of cell traction forces, cytoplasmic forces transmitted by cell protrusions to the matrix fibers. Traction forces are fundamental to cell spreading and motility and are operative in the structuring and remodeling of tissue during development and wound repair. Current assays used to characterize these forces often measure compaction of a disk of cell-populated collagen gel simply in terms of rate or extent. This type of analysis is dependent on assay properties not reflective of the intrinsic force generating ability of the cells such as the initial cell concentration, the initial collagen concentration, and the geometry of the gel. Thus, there is a clear need to identify an objective index of traction force which reflects the intrinsic cell-fiber mechanical interaction. Here we propose such an index for this force using a continuum approach in which the interactive processes of cell migration and matrix deformation are modeled by expressions for cell and matrix conservation coupled to the mechanical force balance for the cell-gel composite. The equations are formulated and solved for an adaptation of the fibroblast-populated collagen lattice (FPCL) assay in which cells are initially dispersed in a microsphere of collagen gel. The solution of the nonlinear system of partial differential equations (parameterized on the traction parameter of the theory) is then compared to compaction data for the microsphere assay.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication1992 Advances in Bioengineering
PublisherPubl by ASME
Number of pages4
ISBN (Print)0791811166
StatePublished - Dec 1 1992
EventWinter Annual Meeting of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers - Anaheim, CA, USA
Duration: Nov 8 1992Nov 13 1992

Publication series

NameAmerican Society of Mechanical Engineers, Bioengineering Division (Publication) BED


OtherWinter Annual Meeting of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers
CityAnaheim, CA, USA

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