Cells continuously sense and respond to external mechanical forces through their cytoskeleton. Here we show that only a small subset of actin fibers, those forming the perinuclear actin cap that wraps around the nucleus, form in response to low physiological mechanical stresses in adherent fibroblasts. While conventional basal stress fibers form only past a threshold shear stress of 0.5 dyn/cm2, actin-cap fibers are formed at shear stresses 50 times lower and orders-of-magnitude faster than biochemical stimulation. This fast differential response is uniquely mediated by focal adhesion protein zyxin at low shear stress and actomyosin fibers of the actin cap. We identify additional roles for lamin A/C of the nuclear lamina and linkers of nucleus to cytoskeleton (LINC) molecules nesprin2giant and nesprin3, which anchor actin cap fibers to the nucleus. These results suggest an interconnected physical pathway for mechanotransduction, from the extracellular milieu to the nucleus.
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