• stress fiber;
  • cytoskeleton;
  • microvilli;
  • tubulin


We present the first study of the changes in the assembly and organization of actin filaments and microtubules that occur in epithelial cells subjected to the hydrostatic pressures of the deep sea. Interphase BSC-1 epithelial cells were pressurized at physiological temperature and fixed while under pressure. Changes in cell morphology and cytoskeletal organization were followed over a range of pressures from 1 to 610 atm. At atmospheric pressure, cells were flat and well attached. Exposure of cells to pressures of 290 atm or greater caused cell rounding and retraction from the substrate. This response became more pronounced with increased pressure, but the degree of response varied within the cell population in the pressure range of 290–400 atm, Microtubule assembly was not noticeably affected by pressures up to 290 atm, but by 320 atm, few microtubules remained. Most actin stress fibers completely disappeared by 290 atm. High pressure did not simply induce the overall depolymerization of actin filaments for, concurrent with cell rounding, the number of visible microvilli present on the cell surface increased dramatically. These effects of high pressure were reversible. Cells re-established their typical morphology, microtubule arrays appeared normal, and stress fibers reformed after approximately 1 hour at atmospheric pressure. High pressure may disrupt the normal assembly of microtubules and actin filaments by affecting the cellular regulatory mechanisms that control cytological changes during the transition from interphase into mitosis.