Study: How cells and tissues maintain their shape

February 12, 2019 by Ziba Kashef, Yale University
Study: How cells and tissues maintain their shape
Image shows how the AGO2-miRNA complex interfaces the interaction between a cell and the extracellular matrix. Credit: Ella Marushchenko

Scientists have long pondered how the body's tissues maintain their stiffness in the face of growth, injury, and other forces. In a new study, Yale researchers have described this mysterious process, which is key to healthy cell and tissue function.

To explore the topic, senior author Stefania Nicoli and her colleague Martin Schwarz first focused on , specifically the fibroblast that control the rigidity of animal tissues. They found that, in addition to genes that positively regulate tissue stiffness, there is a network of tiny RNA that counteract that stiffness as well. These microRNA control proteins that are responsible for maintaining tissue contraction, adhesion, and structure. Together, these create a "mechanical homeostasis," or balance, that preserves tissue stability under stress.

The research team observed the same phenomenon in the cells of mice and zebrafish, showing that the mechanism is common to vertebrates and dates back millions of years.

The finding could provide insight into the development of fibrosis—the thickening and scarring of that can lead to disease. "It may enable the interpretation of early fibrotic disease," which is a factor in conditions such as cancer and hypertension, said Nicoli. "If you catch the fibrotic process early enough, you may be able to reverse it."

The full paper is published in Nature Cell Biology.

Explore further: Connective tissue on the wrong road—When organs start to scar

More information: Albertomaria Moro et al. MicroRNA-dependent regulation of biomechanical genes establishes tissue stiffness homeostasis, Nature Cell Biology (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41556-019-0272-y

Related Stories

Breakthrough for treatment of fibrotic diseases

November 5, 2018

Scientists have discovered a drug combination that could halt the progression of fibrosis—a condition believed to be responsible for almost half of all deaths—according to a study published in the journal European Urology.

Infinite hug mechanism may be key to lung fibrosis

January 24, 2019

Researchers have long known that fibrosis – scarred tissue and organs – is caused by a wound healing mechanism that goes awry beyond normal wound repair. Now, a group of researchers at the University of Toronto's Faculty ...

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.