There’s a lot to learn from watching how life adapts. Myofibroblasts are stretchy cells that help to repair our organs – contracting to bring the edges of a wound together and then self-destructing like tiny dissolvable stiches. These rat myofibroblasts have been grown on differently-sized artificial ‘islands’, putting strain on their criss-crossing stress fibres (highlighted here with multi-coloured fluorescent dyes). Forced to stretch out, the cells adapt and remodel – the cell on the large island (right) has developed more stress fibres than the ‘relaxed’ cell on the smaller island (left, 200 million times smaller than The Isle of Man). Watching how myofibroblasts respond to stress tells us a great deal about how they cope inside our bodies, and what happens when they’re pushed too far – malfunctioning myofibroblasts left behind after a wound has healed can build up into scar tissue, sometimes leading to severe conditions like pulmonary fibrosis.
Written by John Ankers
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