Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a phenotypic change in which epithelial cells detach from their neighbors and become motile. Whereas soluble signals such as growth factors and cytokines are responsible for stimulating EMT, here we show that gradients of mechanical stress define the spatial locations at which EMT occurs. When treated with transforming growth factor (TGF)-β, cells at the corners and edges of square mammary epithelial sheets expressed EMT markers, whereas those in the center did not. Changing the shape of the epithelial sheet altered the spatial pattern of EMT. Traction force microscopy and finite element modeling demonstrated that EMT-permissive regions experienced the highest mechanical stress. Myocardin-related transcription factor (MRTF)-A was localized to the nuclei of cells located in high-stress regions, and inhibiting cytoskeletal tension or MRTF-A expression abrogated the spatial patterning of EMT. These data suggest a causal role for tissue geometry and endogenous mechanical stresses in the spatial patterning of EMT. J. Cell. Biochem. 110: 44–51, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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