Cell sensing of externally applied mechanical strain through integrin-mediated adhesions is critical in development and physiology of muscle, lung, tendon, and arteries, among others. We examined the effects of strain on force transmission through the essential cytoskeletal linker talin. Using a fluorescence-based talin tension sensor (TS), we found that uniaxial stretch of cells on elastic substrates increased tension on talin, which was unexpectedly independent of the orientation of the focal adhesions relative to the direction of strain. High-resolution electron microscopy of the actin cytoskeleton revealed that stress fibers (SFs) are integrated into an isotropic network of cortical actin filaments in which filamin A (FlnA) localizes preferentially to points of intersection between SFs and cortical actin. Knockdown (KD) of FlnA resulted in more isolated, less integrated SFs. After FlnA KD, tension on talin was polarized in the direction of stretch, while FlnA reexpression restored tensional symmetry. These data demonstrate that a FlnA-dependent cortical actin network distributes applied forces over the entire cytoskeleton–matrix interface.

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