Cells' ability to sense and interpret mechanical signals from the extracellular milieu modulates the degree of cell spreading. Yet how cells detect such signals and activate downstream signaling at the molecular level remain elusive. Herein, we utilize tension gauge tether (TGT) platform to investigate the underlying molecular mechanism of cell spreading. Our data from both differentiated cells of cancerous and non-cancerous origin show that for the same stiff underlying glass substrates and for same ligand density it is the molecular forces across single integrins that ultimately determine cell spreading responses. Furthermore, by decoupling molecular stiffness and molecular tension we demonstrate that molecular stiffness has little influence on cell spreading. Our data provide strong evidence that links molecular forces at the cell-substrate interface to the degree of cell spreading.
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