Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Biomedical Engineering

First Advisor

Daniel Conway

Second Advisor

Christopher Lemmon

Third Advisor

Rebecca Heise

Fourth Advisor

Amanda Dickinson

Fifth Advisor

Scott Henderson


There is a large body of evidence supporting the theory that cell physiology largely depends on the mechanical properties of its surroundings or micro-environment. More recently studies have shown that changes to intra-cellular mechanical properties can also have a meaningful impact on cell function and in some cases lead to the progression of ailments or disease. For example, small changes to the protein sequence of a structural nuclear envelope protein called lamin-A is known to cause a variety of neurological and musculoskeletal diseases referred to as laminopathies. Currently, there is little incite into how these mutations lead to disease progression due in part to an inability to measure protein-specific mechanical changes and how these alterations may relate to disruptions in intra-cellular signaling or function. \par To improve upon the ability to measure mechanical properties inside living cells, a previously validated, genetically-encoded resonant energy transfer (FRET)-force biosensor was modified to localize to the nuclear envelope. This biosensor integrated into the nuclear envelope protein Nesprin-2G and senses small deformations that are resolved by indirect measurements of spectroscopic fluctuations in the fluorescent emission of the sensor. To accurately measure these changes, a new spectral-imaging technique named SensorFRET was developed which can resolve small changes in the FRET sensor under varying levels of fluorescent intensity and with known absolute precision. Using SensorFRET, the Nesprin-2G biosensor (Nesprin-TS) reported changes in actomyosin contractility, nuclear shape, and nuclear deformation. Using Nesprin-TS, fibroblasts derived from patients with Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome (HGPS) reported less force on Nesprin-2G molecules relative to healthy fibroblasts on average.\par To demonstrate how intra-cellular forces on the nucleus may impact normal cell physiology, bone-marrow derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) were genetically modified such that the cytoskeleton was decoupled from the nucleus by saturating KASH binding proteins with a non-functional truncated protein called DN-KASH. MSCs treated with DN-KASH preferentially differentiated into osteocytes (bone cells) at a higher rate than MSCs exposed to osteogenic growth factors. This osteogenic preference after DN-KASH treatment was independent of the cell substrate topology and did not significantly alter integrin expression. However, this tendency to differentiate into osteocytes was dependent on substrate stiffness. Overall, the data imply that an intra-cellular force-dependent mechanism connected to the cell nucleus strongly influences MSC differentiation.


© Paul Arsenovic

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