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How are cells able to feel their physical environment?

Cells interact with an ever changing environment. While it's known how a cell senses changes in the chemical composition of its environment, we know less about how the cell feels a change in mechanical properties of the environment. This video by Iris Barbier-Piguet describes a protein whose structure allows for mechanical sensing, or "mechanosensing": the focal adhesion kinase or FAK. This protein changes shape when subjected to forces or when whatever the cell is sitting on changes in stiffness. FAK is also involved in signaling pathways and would allow the cell to sense and react to its physical environment.

Iris Barbier-Piguet is a student in the Cell Physics Master at the University of Strasbourg, France.

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