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Natural Sciences & Mathematics

Faculty & Staff

Dinah Loerke

Assistant Professor, Department of Physics & Astronomy

Cellular Mechanics and Signaling

Cellular mechanical properties are primarily governed by the cytoskeleton, which maintains cell shape and provides structural rigidity. Changes in cellular signaling states can thus cause changes in cellular mechanics through the dynamic reorganization of the cytoskeleton; conversely, cells can actively sense and respond to the mechanical properties of their local environment (e.g the substrate). This relationship between mechanics and signaling has particular relevance to the cancer field. During the malignant transformation that marks the onset of metastasis, cells undergo both hallmark changes of their intracellular signaling state and drastic morphological and mechanical changes, and the restructuring of the rigid and ordered cytoskeletal architecture into a more compliant and unstructured one is instrumental for allowing metastatic cells to acquire the ability to migrate.

We study the integration of biochemical and cytoskeleton-mediated mechanical signals at different length and time scales, both at the level of cell populations - such as in cell scattering - and at the intracellular level, including the relationship between membrane traffic and the local mechanical microenvironment mediated through the actin cortex. Methodologically, our approach is based on the (automated) high-content analysis of experimental data input from live-cell microscopy and incorporates quantitative image processing and computational modeling. Areas of special interest are spatiotemporal dynamics, inter-correlation of independent readouts, particle dynamics, large and heterogeneous data populations, and statistical analysis of spatial organization.