Processes such as cell locomotion and morphogenesis depend on both the generation of force by cytoskeletal elements and the response of the cell to the resulting mechanical loads. Many widely accepted theoretical models of processes involving cell shape change are based on untested hypotheses about the interaction of these two components of cell shape change. I have quantified the mechanical responses of cytoplasm to various chemical environments and mechanical loading regimes to understand better the mechanisms of cell shape change and to address the validity of these models. Measurements of cell mechanical properties were made with strands of cytoplasm submerged in media containing detergent to permeabilize the plasma membrane, thus allowing control over intracellular milieu. Experiments were performed with equipment that generated sinusoidally varying length changes of isolated strands of cytoplasm from Physarum polycephalum. Results indicate that stiffness, elasticity, and viscosity of cytoplasm all increase with increasing concentration of Ca2+, Mg2+, and ATP, and decrease with increasing magnitude and rate of deformation. These results specifically challenge assumptions underlying mathematical models of morphogenetic events such as epithelial folding and cell division, and further suggest that gelation may depend on both actin cross-linking and actin polymerization.

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