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Science and Mathematics

Physics Colloquium: How cells respond to physical cues – the role of cytoskeletal dynamics

October 6, 2022 at 3:30pm5:00pm EDT

Physics Building, 202

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The Department of Physics is pleased to welcome Dr. Arpita Upadhyaya for an in-person colloquium presentation. Dr. Arpita Upadhyaya is Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park. She graduated from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, India, with a Master of Physics and Bachelor of Engineering. She obtained her Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Notre Dame. She was then a Pappalardo Fellow in the Department of Physics at MIT. In her lab at the University of Maryland, College Park, she investigates how cellular mechanics and physical forces enable a cell to sense and respond to its physical environment. Dr. Upadhyaya’s lab uses high-resolution live cell imaging of single molecule movements and cellular force generation to uncover the biophysics of receptor signaling, mechanosensing and gene expression in immune and cancer cells.

Cells need to sense and adaptively respond to their physical environment in diverse biological contexts such as development, cancer and the immune response. In addition to chemical signals and the genetic blueprint, cellular function and dynamics are modulated by the physical properties of their environment such as stiffness and topography. In order to probe and respond to these environmental attributes, cells exert forces on their surroundings and generate appropriate biochemical and genetic responses. These forces arise from the spatiotemporal organization and dynamics of the cell cytoskeleton, a network of entangled biopolymer filaments that is driven out of thermal equilibrium by enzymes that actively convert chemical energy to mechanical energy. Understanding how cells generate forces and sense the mechanical environment is an important challenge with implications for physics and biology. I will discuss our work on the principles of cellular force generation, the statistical properties of these forces, and their role in stiffness and topography sensing, with a focus on immune and cancer cells. I will also present some recent results on how the mechanical properties of the environment affect gene expression. Our work provides insight into the design principles underlying how biologically active matter controls signaling and gene expression and underscores the importance of physical forces in cellular function.

This event was first published on September 30, 2022 and last updated on October 3, 2022.

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