T cell activation by dendritic cells (DCs) involves forces exerted by the T cell actin cytoskeleton, which are opposed by the cortical cytoskeleton of the interacting APC. During an immune response, DCs undergo a maturation process that optimizes their ability to efficiently prime naïve T cells. Using atomic force microscopy, we find that during maturation, DC cortical stiffness increases via a process that involves actin polymerization. Using stimulatory hydrogels and DCs expressing mutant cytoskeletal proteins, we find that increasing stiffness lowers the agonist dose needed for T cell activation. CD4 T cells exhibit much more profound stiffness-dependency than CD8 T cells. Finally, stiffness responses are most robust when T cells are stimulated with pMHC rather than anti-CD3ε, consistent with a mechanosensing mechanism involving receptor deformation. Taken together, our data reveal that maturation-associated cytoskeletal changes alter the biophysical properties of DCs, providing mechanical cues that costimulate T cell activation.
© 2020, Blumenthal et al.