Tendon cells, tenocytes, are constantly subjected to mechanical stress in vivo, which maintains a level of cellular tension. When a tendon is subjected to overloading, local rupture of collagen fibers are induced, which deprives tenocytes of mechanical stress, lowers their cellular tension level and upregulates their catabolism. In addition, leukocytes are attracted to the rupture sites and produce interleukin‐1β (IL‐1β), and this exogenous IL‐1β also stimulates tenocyte catabolism. We tested a hypothesis that catabolic tenocytes with low cellular tension at the rupture sites excessively respond to the exogenous IL‐1β and further upregulate matrix metalloproteinase 1 (MMP‐1) gene expression. Tenocytes from rabbit Achilles tendon were cultured on the following substrates: glass or polydimethylsiloxane micropillar substrates with a height of 2, 4, or 8 µm. Following a 3‐day IL‐1β stimulation at a concentration of 0, 1, 10, or 100 pM, the effects of IL‐1β stimulation on cell morphology and MMP‐1 gene expression was analysed with fluorescent microscopy and fluorescence in situ hybridization, respectively. In addition, the effects of IL‐1β stimulation on cell membrane fluidity were examined. It was demonstrated that the cells on 8‐µm‐height micropillars exhibited a greater response than those on rigid substrates with flat (glass) and topologically the same surface (2‐µm‐height micropillars) to IL‐1β when supplied at the same concentration. Besides this, membrane fluidity was lower in the cells on micropillars. Therefore, it appears that cellular attachment to softer substrates lowers the cellular actin cortex tension, reducing the membrane fluidity and possibly elevating the sensitivity of IL‐1 receptors to ligand binding.
Keywords: cellular tension; interleukin‐1β; matrix metalloproteinase‐1; substrate stiffness; tenocytes