Microfabricated tissues for investigating traction forces involved in cell migration and tissue morphogenesis.
Cell-generated forces drive an array of biological processes ranging from wound healing to tumor metastasis. Whereas experimental techniques such as traction force microscopy are capable of quantifying traction forces in multidimensional systems, the physical mechanisms by which these forces induce changes in tissue form remain to be elucidated. Understanding these mechanisms will ultimately require techniques that are capable of quantifying traction forces with high precision and accuracy in vivo or in systems that recapitulate in vivo conditions, such as microfabricated tissues and engineered substrata. To that end, here we review the fundamentals of traction forces, their quantification, and the use of microfabricated tissues designed to study these forces during cell migration and tissue morphogenesis. We emphasize the differences between traction forces in two- and three-dimensional systems, and highlight recently developed techniques for quantifying traction forces.