1. Structural Biology and Molecular Biophysics
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Cooperative unfolding of distinctive mechanoreceptor domains transduces force into signals

  1. Lining Ju
  2. Yunfeng Chen
  3. Lingzhou Xue
  4. Xiaoping Du
  5. Cheng Zhu  Is a corresponding author
  1. Georgia Institute of Technology, United States
  2. Pennsylvania State University, United States
  3. University of Illinois at Chicago, United States
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2016;5:e15447 doi: 10.7554/eLife.15447


How cells sense their mechanical environment and transduce forces into biochemical signals is a crucial yet unresolved question in mechanobiology. Platelets use receptor glycoprotein Ib (GPIb), specifically its α subunit (GPIbα), to signal as they tether and translocate on von Willebrand factor (VWF) of injured arterial surfaces against blood flow. Force slows VWF-GPIbα dissociation (catch bond) and unfolds the GPIbα leucine-rich repeat domain (LRRD) and juxtamembrane mechanosensitive domain (MSD). How these mechanical processes trigger biochemical signals remains unknown. Here we analyze these extracellular events and the resulting intracellular Ca2+ on a single platelet in real time, revealing that LRRD unfolding intensifies the Ca2+ signal analogously whereas MSD unfolding determines the Ca2+ type digitally. The >30nm macroglycopeptide separating the two domains transmits VWF-GPIbα bond lifetime prolonged by LRRD unfolding to enhance MSD unfolding cooperatively at an optimal force, which may serve as a design principle for a generic mechanosensory machine.

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Author details

  1. Lining Ju

    Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  2. Yunfeng Chen

    Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Lingzhou Xue

    Department of Statistics, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. Xiaoping Du

    Department of Pharmacology, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  5. Cheng Zhu

    Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-1718-565X


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (Grant HL132019)

  • Cheng Zhu

Diabetes Australia (IRMA G179720)

  • Lining Ju

University of Sydney (2016 Sydney Medical School ECR Kickstart Grant)

  • Lining Ju

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


Human subjects: Human RBCs and platelets for BFP experiments were collected abiding a protocol (#H12354) approved by the Institute Review Broad of Georgia Institute of Technology. Informed consent was obtained from each blood donor.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Taekjip Ha, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: February 23, 2016
  2. Accepted: July 18, 2016
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: July 19, 2016 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: September 13, 2016 (version 2)


© 2016, Ju et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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