The nucleus is irreversibly shaped by motion of cell boundaries in cancer and non-cancer cells

Vincent J. Tocco, Yuan Li, Keith G. Christopher, James H. Matthews, Varun Aggarwal, Lauren Paschall, Hendrik Luesch, Jonathan D. Licht, Richard B. Dickinson, Tanmay P. Lele

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Actomyosin stress fibers impinge on the nucleus and can exert compressive forces on it. These compressive forces have been proposed to elongate nuclei in fibroblasts, and lead to abnormally shaped nuclei in cancer cells. In these models, the elongated or flattened nuclear shape is proposed to store elastic energy. However, we found that deformed shapes of nuclei are unchanged even after removal of the cell with micro-dissection, both for smooth, elongated nuclei in fibroblasts and abnormally shaped nuclei in breast cancer cells. The lack of shape relaxation implies that the nuclear shape in spread cells does not store any elastic energy, and the cellular stresses that deform the nucleus are dissipative, not static. During cell spreading, the deviation of the nucleus from a convex shape increased in MDA-MB-231 cancer cells, but decreased in MCF-10A cells. Tracking changes of nuclear and cellular shape on micropatterned substrata revealed that fibroblast nuclei deform only during deformations in cell shape and only in the direction of nearby moving cell boundaries. We propose that motion of cell boundaries exert a stress on the nucleus, which allows the nucleus to mimic cell shape. The lack of elastic energy in the nuclear shape suggests that nuclear shape changes in cells occur at constant surface area and volume.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1446-1454
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Cellular Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • cell forces
  • nuclear mechanics
  • nuclear shape


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