Recent work has indicated that the shape and size of a cell can influence how a cell spreads, develops focal adhesions, and exerts forces on the substrate. However, it is unclear how cell shape regulates these events. Here we present a computational model that uses cell shape to predict the magnitude and direction of forces generated by cells. The predicted results are compared to experimentally measured traction forces, and show that the model can predict traction force direction, relative magnitude, and force distribution within the cell using only cell shape as an input. Analysis of the model shows that the magnitude and direction of the traction force at a given point is proportional to the first moment of area about that point in the cell, suggesting that contractile forces within the cell act on the entire cytoskeletal network as a single cohesive unit. Through this model, we demonstrate that intrinsic properties of cell shape can facilitate changes in traction force patterns, independently of heterogeneous mechanical properties or signaling events within the cell.
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