Vimentin fibers orient traction stress

Nancy Costigliola, Liya Ding, Christoph J. Burckhardt, Sangyoon J. Han, Edgar Gutierrez, Andressa Mota, Alex Groisman, Timothy J. Mitchison, Gaudenz Danuser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


The intermediate filament vimentin is required for cells to transition from the epithelial state to the mesenchymal state and migrate as single cells; however, little is known about the specific role of vimentin in the regulation of mesenchymal migration. Vimentin is known to have a significantly greater ability to resist stress without breaking in vitro compared with actin or microtubules, and also to increase cell elasticity in vivo. Therefore, we hypothesized that the presence of vimentin could support the anisotropic mechanical strain of single-cell migration. To study this, we fluorescently labeled vimentin with an mEmerald tag using TALEN genome editing. We observed vimentin architecture in migrating human foreskin fibroblasts and found that network organization varied from long, linear bundles, or -fibers,- to shorter fragments with a mesh-like organization. We developed image analysis tools employing steerable filtering and iterative graph matching to characterize the fibers embedded in the surrounding mesh. Vimentin fibers were aligned with fibroblast branching and migration direction. The presence of the vimentin network was correlated with 10-fold slower local actin retrograde flow rates, as well as spatial homogenization of actin-based forces transmitted to the substrate. Vimentin fibers coaligned with and were required for the anisotropic orientation of traction stresses. These results indicate that the vimentin network acts as a load-bearing superstructure capable of integrating and reorienting actin-based forces. We propose that vimentin-s role in cell motility is to govern the alignment of traction stresses that permit single-cell migration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5195-5200
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 16 2017


  • Fiber orientation
  • Intermediate filaments
  • Mesenchymal migration
  • Traction stress
  • Vimentin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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