The cytoplasm of living cells can sustain transient and steady intracellular pressure gradients

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Understanding the physical basis of cellular shape change in response to both internal and external mechanical stresses requires understanding cytoplasmic rheology. At subsecond time-scales and micron length-scales, cells behave as fluid-filled sponges in which shape changes necessitate intracellular fluid redistribution. However, whether these cytoplasmic poroelastic properties play an important role in cellular mechanical response over length-scales and time-scales relevant to cell physiology remains unclear. Here, we investigated whether and how a localised deformation of the cell surface gives rise to transient intracellular flows spanning several microns and lasting seconds. Next, we show that pressure gradients induced in the cytoplasm can be sustained over several minutes. We found that stable pressure gradients can arise from the combination of cytoplasmic poroelasticity and water flows across the membrane. Overall our data indicate that intracellular cytosolic flows and pressure gradients may play a much greater role than currently appreciated, acting over time- and length-scales relevant to mechanotransduction and cell migration, signifying that poroelastic properties need to be accounted for in models and states of the cell.

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