Molecular tension sensors report forces generated by single integrin molecules in living cells

Masatoshi Morimatsu, Armen H. Mekhdjian, Arjun S. Adhikari, Alexander R. Dunn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Citations (Scopus)


Living cells are exquisitely responsive to mechanical cues, yet how cells produce and detect mechanical force remains poorly understood due to a lack of methods that visualize cell-generated forces at the molecular scale. Here we describe Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET)-based molecular tension sensors that allow us to directly visualize cell-generated forces with single-molecule sensitivity. We apply these sensors to determine the distribution of forces generated by individual integrins, a class of cell adhesion molecules with prominent roles throughout cell and developmental biology. We observe strikingly complex distributions of tensions within individual focal adhesions. FRET values measured for single probe molecules suggest that relatively modest tensions at the molecular level are sufficient to drive robust cellular adhesion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3985-3989
Number of pages5
JournalNano Letters
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 11 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Mechanobiology
  • focal adhesion
  • integrin
  • mechanotransduction
  • single molecule
  • tension
  • traction force microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanical Engineering


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