Mechanical forces, including gravity, tension, compression, hydrostatic pressure, and fluid shear stress, play a vital role in human physiology and pathology. They particularly influence extracellular matrix (ECM) gene expression, ECM protein synthesis, and production of inflammatory mediators of many load-sensitive adult cells such as fibroblasts, chondrocytes, smooth muscle cells, and endothelial cells. Furthermore, the mechanical forces generated by cells themselves, known as cell traction forces (CTFs), also influence many biological processes such as wound healing, angiogenesis, and metastasis. Thus, the quantitative characterization of CTFs by qualities such as magnitude and distribution is useful for understanding physiological and pathological events at the tissue and organ levels. Recently, the effects of mechanical loads on embryonic and adult stem cells in terms of self-renewal, differentiation, and matrix protein expression have been investigated. While it seems certain that mechanical loads applied to stem cells regulate their self-renewal and induce controlled cell lineage differentiation, the detailed molecular signaling mechanisms responsible for these mechano-effects remain to be elucidated. Challenges in the fields of both adult- and stem-cell mechanobiology include devising novel experimental and theoretical methodologies to examine mechano-responses more closely to various forms of mechanical forces and mechanotransduction mechanisms of these cells in a more physiologically accurate setting. Such novel methodologies will lead to better understanding of various pathological diseases, their management, and translational applications in the ever expanding field of tissue engineering.
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