Differentiation alters stem cell nuclear architecture, mechanics, and mechano-sensitivity.
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Mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) differentiation is mediated by soluble and physical cues. In this study, we investigated differentiation-induced transformations in MSC cellular and nuclear biophysical properties and queried their role in mechanosensation. Our data show that nuclei in differentiated bovine and human MSCs stiffen and become resistant to deformation. This attenuated nuclear deformation was governed by restructuring of Lamin A/C and increased heterochromatin content. This change in nuclear stiffness sensitized MSCs to mechanical-loading-induced calcium signaling and differentiated marker expression. This sensitization was reversed when the 'stiff' differentiated nucleus was softened and was enhanced when the 'soft' undifferentiated nucleus was stiffened through pharmacologic treatment. Interestingly, dynamic loading of undifferentiated MSCs, in the absence of soluble differentiation factors, stiffened and condensed the nucleus, and increased mechanosensitivity more rapidly than soluble factors. These data suggest that the nucleus acts as a mechanostat to modulate cellular mechanosensation during differentiation.