The excitation of many cells and tissues is associated with cell mechanical changes. The evidence presented herein corroborates that single cells deform during an action potential. It is demonstrated that excitation of plant cells (Chara braunii internodes) is accompanied by out-of-plane displacements of the cell surface in the micrometer range (∼1–10 μm). The onset of cellular deformation coincides with the depolarization phase of the action potential. The mechanical pulse: 1) propagates with the same velocity as the electrical pulse (within experimental accuracy, ∼10 mm s−1), 2) is reversible, 3) in most cases is of biphasic nature (109 out of 152 experiments), and 4) is presumably independent of actin-myosin-motility. The existence of transient mechanical changes in the cell cortex is confirmed by micropipette aspiration experiments. A theoretical analysis demonstrates that this observation can be explained by a reversible change in the mechanical properties of the cell surface (transmembrane pressure, surface tension, and bending rigidity). Taken together, these findings contribute to the ongoing debate about the physical nature of cellular excitability.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
C.F. is grateful for funding by the Max Kade Foundation ( http://maxkadefoundation.org/ ). M.F.S. acknowledges financial support by the German Science Foundation (DFG) as well as the research unit Shear Flow Regulation of Hemostasis (SHENC) .
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