Sarcomere mechanics in capillary endothelial cells.
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Tension generation in endothelial cells of the aorta, spleen, and eye occurs in actin stress fibers, and is necessary for normal cell function. Sarcomeres are the tension-generating units of actin stress fibers in endothelial cells. How sarcomeres generate and maintain tension in stress fibers is not well understood. Using femtosecond laser ablation, we severed living stress fibers and measured sarcomere contraction under zero tension. The length of the sarcomere decreased in two phases: an instantaneous initial response, followed by a slower change in length attributed to myosin activity. The latter phase ceased abruptly after a minimum sarcomere length was reached, suggesting a rigid resistance that prevents further contraction. Furthermore, severed, contracted stress fibers did not relax when treated with myosin inhibitors, indicating that contracted stress fibers do not store elastic potential energy. These novel measurements combined with modeling suggest that myosin-generated forces in adjacent sarcomeres are directly in balance, and argue against sarcomere models with springlike elements in parallel with myosin contractile elements. We propose a new model for tension generation in the sarcomere, which provides a mechanistic interpretation for our observations and previous observations of inhomogeneous sarcomere contraction and apparent stress fiber viscoelastic behavior.