A multi-modular tensegrity model of an actin stress fiber. Academic Article uri icon


  • Stress fibers are contractile bundles in the cytoskeleton that stabilize cell structure by exerting traction forces on the extracellular matrix. Individual stress fibers are molecular bundles composed of parallel actin and myosin filaments linked by various actin-binding proteins, which are organized end-on-end in a sarcomere-like pattern within an elongated three-dimensional network. While measurements of single stress fibers in living cells show that they behave like tensed viscoelastic fibers, precisely how this mechanical behavior arises from this complex supramolecular arrangement of protein components remains unclear. Here we show that computationally modeling a stress fiber as a multi-modular tensegrity network can predict several key behaviors of stress fibers measured in living cells, including viscoelastic retraction, fiber splaying after severing, non-uniform contraction, and elliptical strain of a puncture wound within the fiber. The tensegrity model can also explain how they simultaneously experience passive tension and generate active contraction forces; in contrast, a tensed cable net model predicts some, but not all, of these properties. Thus, tensegrity models may provide a useful link between molecular and cellular scale mechanical behaviors and represent a new handle on multi-scale modeling of living materials.

published proceedings

  • J Biomech

author list (cited authors)

  • Luo, Y., Xu, X., Lele, T., Kumar, S., & Ingber, D. E.

citation count

  • 77

complete list of authors

  • Luo, Yaozhi||Xu, Xian||Lele, Tanmay||Kumar, Sanjay||Ingber, Donald E

publication date

  • August 2008