Isolated Nuclei Stiffen in Response to Low Intensity Vibration

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The nucleus, central to all cellular activity, relies on both direct mechanical input and its molecular transducers to sense and respond to external stimuli. While it has been shown that isolated nuclei can adapt to applied force ex vivo, the mechanisms governing nuclear mechanoadaptation in response to physiologic forces in vivo remain unclear. To investigate nuclear mechanoadaptation in cells, we developed an atomic force microscopy (AFM) based procedure to probe live nuclei isolated from mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) following the application of low intensity vibration (LIV) to determine whether nuclear stiffness increases as a result of LIV. Results indicated that isolated nuclei were, on average, 30% softer than nuclei tested within intact MSCs prior to LIV. When the nucleus was isolated following LIV (0.7 g, 90 Hz, 20 min) applied four times (4×) separated by 1 h intervals, stiffness of isolated nuclei increased 75% compared to non-LIV controls. LIV-induced nuclear stiffening required functional Linker of Nucleoskeleton and Cytoskeleton (LINC) complex, but was not accompanied by increased levels of the nuclear envelope proteins LaminA/C or Sun-2. While depleting LaminA/C or Sun-1&2 resulted in either a 47% or 39% increased heterochromatin to nuclear area ratio in isolated nuclei, the heterochromatin to nuclear area ratio was decreased by 25% in LIV-treated nuclei compared to controls, indicating LIV-induced changes in the heterochromatin structure. Overall, our findings indicate that increased apparent cell stiffness in response to exogenous mechanical challenge of MSCs in the form of LIV is in part retained by increased nuclear stiffness and changes in heterochromatin structure.