Parallel orientation of large cell populations occurs when cells are cultured on thin collagen films if and only if a gel is restrained at two or more edges. The direction in which cell bodies orient is determined by the geometry of the gel. It can be shown that tension exerted by cells on a collagen gel leads to reorientation of collagen fibers in a direction determined by the initial geometry of the collagen gel. Hence, tension generated by cells leads to collagen fiber orientation which, in turn, determines the spatial orientation and morphology of cells. Thus, without cell-to-cell contact, cells can communicate with each other by applying tension to collagen fibers in their extracellular matrix. Information concerning the shape of the environment can be transmitted via such long range forces.
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