I am confused about the difference between stress, strain, tension, pre-strain and prestress in cells (especially in in-vitro experiments, like cell spreading on a substrate, cell doublets, cell rearrangements in epithelial tissues).

  • How are these 5 physical terms different or related?
  • Is there a reference or a book that can explain them in a good way, I got lost usually when they use in an article the terms ("they transmit tension" or "they impose stress")
  • $\begingroup$ @RogerVadim already mentioned an excellent book on biophysics (Phillips, Kondev, Theriot). Furthermore, since you are interested mostly on the mechanical aspects, I can recommend David Boal: Mechanics of the Cell. $\endgroup$
    – Domen
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 12:10

1 Answer 1


Strain and stress are two essential quantities in elasticity theory, corresponding to the deformation and the forces appearing in response to this deformation. Tension or tensile stress is a particular kind of stress appearing in elongated objects, such as ropes, filaments, etc.

One could recommend any of the existing books on the elasticity theory, but these may turn out to be a bit of too "hardcore" in terms of the level of the math and the background physics knowledge required. I therefore suggest the reading more adapted to biologists (although not necessarily easy):

or similar books on mathematical biology and biophysics.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, you have a quick idea about the difference between stress and pre-stress in cells and how is that related to the cytoskeleton and actomyosin cortex? $\endgroup$
    – Remember
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ @ALi Pre-stress is the inherent stress that exists in the material even before you load it. Prestressed concrete is a good example - it seems far from biology, but most of the ideas is directly transferable to cytoskeleton. Unfortunately I cannot say more - the best I can do is google, which you also can do yourself (see, e.g., this one). $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 8:28

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