Abstract: Single-molecule methods using recombinant proteins have generated transformative hypotheses on how mechanical forces are generated and sensed in biological tissues. However, testing these mechanical hypotheses on native molecules in their natural environment remains inaccessible to conventional genetics, biophysics and molecular biology tools. To address these limitations, here we demonstrate a genetically engineered knock-in mouse model carrying a HaloTag-TEV insertion in the protein titin, the main determinant of myocyte stiffness. Using our system, we have specifically severed the titin filament by digestion with TEV protease, and found that the response of muscle fibers to length changes requires mechanical transduction through titin’s intact polypeptide chain. HaloTag-based covalent tethering has enabled directed examination of the dynamics of titin under 1-100 pN forces using recently developed magnetic tweezers. At pulling forces lower than 10 pN, titin domains are readily recruited to the unfolded state, and produce 41.5 zJ mechanical work during refolding. Our results support an active role of titin in muscle contraction in coordination with actomyosin motors. Insertion of the HaloTag-TEV cassette in proteins with mechanical roles opens new grounds to explore the molecular basis of cellular force generation, mechanosensing and mechanotransduction.
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