Mechanical Stress Regulates Epithelial Tissue Integrity and Stiffness through the FGFR/Erk2 Signaling Pathway during Embryogenesis.
Physical forces generated by tissue-tissue interactions are a critical component of embryogenesis, aiding the formation of organs in a coordinated manner. In this study, using Xenopus laevis embryos and phosphoproteome analyses, we uncover the rapid activation of the mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase Erk2 upon stimulation with centrifugal, compression, or stretching force. We demonstrate that Erk2 induces the remodeling of cytoskeletal proteins, including F-actin, an embryonic cadherin C-cadherin, and the tight junction protein ZO-1. We show these force-dependent changes to be prerequisites for the enhancement of cellular junctions and tissue stiffening during early embryogenesis. Furthermore, Erk2 activation is FGFR1 dependent while not requiring fibroblast growth factor (FGF) ligands, suggesting that cell/tissue deformation triggers receptor activation in the absence of ligands. These findings establish previously unrecognized functions for mechanical forces in embryogenesis and reveal its underlying force-induced signaling pathways.