Modeling the mechanosensitivity of neutrophils passing through a narrow channel

Tenghu Wu & James J. Feng

Biophys. J. 109, 2235-2245 (2015).

Abstract - Recent experiments have found that neutrophils may be activated after passing through microfluidic channels and filters. Mechanical deformation causes disassembly of the cytoskeleton and a sudden drop of the elastic modulus of the neutrophil. This fluidization is followed by either activation of the neutrophil with protrusion of pseudopods or a uniform recovery of the cytoskeleton network with no pseudopod. The former occurs if the neutrophil traverses the narrow channel at a slower rate. We propose a chemo-mechanical model for the fluidization and activation processes. Fluidization is treated as mechanical destruction of the cytoskeleton by sufficiently rapid bending. Loss of the cytoskeleton removes a pathway by which cortical tension inhibits the Rac protein. As a result, Rac rises and polarizes through a wave- pinning mechanism if the chemical reaction rate is fast enough. This leads to recovery and reinforcement of the cytoskeleton at the front of the neutrophil, and hence protrusion and activation. Otherwise the Rac signal returns to a uniform pre-deformation state and no activation occurs. Thus, mechanically-induced neutrophil activation is understood as the competition between two time scales: that of chemical reaction and that of mechanical deformation. The model captures the main features of the experimental observation.