We studied stress fiber orientation under a wide range of uniaxial cyclic deformations. We devised and validated a hypothesis consisting of two parts, as follows: (1) a stress fiber aligns to avoid a mechanical stimulus in the fiber direction under cyclic deformation. This means that, among all allowable directions, a stress fiber aligns in the direction which minimizes the stimulus, i.e., the summation of the changes in length of the stress fiber over one stretch cycle; and (2) there is a limit in the sensitivity of the cellular response to the mechanical stimulus. Due to this sensing limit, the orientation angle in stress fibers is distributed around the angle corresponding to the minimum stimulus. To validate this hypothesis, we approximated an anisotropic deformation of the membrane on which cells were to be cultured. We then obtained the relationships between the stretch range and the fiber angle in the undeformed state which minimize the mechanical stimuli, assuming that the membrane on which stress fibers and cells adhered was homogeneous and incompressible. Numerical simulation results showed that the proposed hypothesis described our previous experimental results well and was consistent with the experimental results in the literature. The simulation results, taking account of the second part of the hypothesis with a small value for the limit in sensitivity to the mechanical stimulus, could explain why cell orientation is distributed so widely with cyclic stretch ranges of < 10%. The proposed hypothesis can be applied to various types of deformation because the mechanical stimulus is always sensed and accumulates under cyclic deformation without the necessity of a reference state to measure the stimulus. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd.
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