Pervasive cytoquakes in the actomyosin cortex across cell types and substrate stiffness

Yu Shi, Shankar Sivarajan, Katherine M. Xiang, Geran M. Kostecki, Leslie Tung, John C. Crocker, Daniel H. Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The actomyosin cytoskeleton enables cells to resist deformation, crawl, change their shape and sense their surroundings. Despite decades of study, how its molecular constituents can assemble together to form a network with the observed mechanics of cells remains poorly understood. Recently, it has been shown that the actomyosin cortex of quiescent cells can undergo frequent, abrupt reconfigurations and displacements, called cytoquakes. Notably, such fluctuations are not predicted by current physical models of actomyosin networks, and their prevalence across cell types and mechanical environments has not previously been studied. Using micropost array detectors, we have performed high-resolution measurements of the dynamic mechanical fluctuations of cells’ actomyosin cortex and stress fiber networks. This reveals cortical dynamics dominated by cytoquakes—intermittent events with a fat-tailed distribution of displacements, sometimes spanning microposts separated by 4 μm, in all cell types studied. These included 3T3 fibroblasts, where cytoquakes persisted over substrate stiffnesses spanning the tissue-relevant range of 4.3 kPa–17 kPa, and primary neonatal rat cardiac fibroblasts and myofibroblasts, human embryonic kidney cells and human bone osteosarcoma epithelial (U2OS) cells, where cytoquakes were observed on substrates in the same stiffness range. Overall, these findings suggest that the cortex self-organizes into a marginally stable mechanical state whose physics may contribute to cell mechanical properties, active behavior and mechanosensing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)246-257
Number of pages12
JournalIntegrative Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021


  • active matter
  • cortex
  • cytoquake
  • cytoskeleton

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry


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