Different TCR-induced T lymphocyte responses are potentiated by stiffness with variable sensitivity
T cells are mechanosensitive but the effect of stiffness on their functions is still debated. We characterize herein how human primary CD4+ T cell functions are affected by stiffness within the physiological Young’s modulus range of 0.5 kPa to 100 kPa. Stiffness modulates T lymphocyte migration and morphological changes induced by TCR/CD3 triggering. Stiffness also increases TCR-induced immune system, metabolism and cell-cycle-related genes. Yet, upon TCR/CD3 stimulation, while cytokine production increases within a wide range of stiffness, from hundreds of Pa to hundreds of kPa, T cell metabolic properties and cell cycle progression are only increased by the highest stiffness tested (100 kPa). Finally, mechanical properties of adherent antigen-presenting cells modulate cytokine production by T cells. Together, these results reveal that T cells discriminate between the wide range of stiffness values found in the body and adapt their responses accordingly.