The relationship between the development of tension in sheets of fibroblasts and the orientation of these cells and collagen fibres in collagen gels was examined. Cell-containing, three-dimensional collagen gels were established in agarose-coated Epon dies measuring 10 mm X 4 mm X 4 mm, to which pieces of demineralized tooth and bone had been attached at opposite ends. Contraction of the gel into an opaque structure suspended between the two particles occurred over 24 h and resulted in concave upper and lateral surfaces and a flat to slightly concave lower surface. Initial orientation of the fibres along the tooth-bone axis was followed by similar orientation of the cells. Gels cast without cells exhibited no change in dimensions. Release of the tooth particle after 12 or 24 h of incubation led to shortening of the contracted gels 5 min following release. This shortening was significantly greater (P less than 0.001) than that of uncontracted or slightly contracted gels (1 h and 3 h incubation). Gels attached at one end only compacted around the site of attachment but did not show orientation of cells or fibres. Gels containing colcemid or cytochalasin D were only slightly compacted and did not develop tension. Collagen fibres, but not cell in colcemid-containing gels, showed some alignment; neither were aligned in the presence of cytochalasin D. These data suggest that both microtubules and microfilaments are necessary for alignment of cells and the establishment of tension between two points of attachment in collagen gels. Furthermore, they lend support to our previously advanced hypothesis that the development of tension between two points can result in the orientation of the cells along an axis connecting the points of attachment. This could provide a mechanism for the development of oriented fibre systems in vivo.

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