It is now well established that many cellular functions are regulated by interactions of cells with physicochemical and mechanical cues of their extracellular matrix (ECM) environment. Eukaryotic cells constantly sense their local microenvironment through surface mechanosensors to transduce physical changes of ECM into biochemical signals, and integrate these signals to achieve specific changes in gene expression. Interestingly, physicochemical and mechanical parameters of the ECM can couple with each other to regulate cell fate. Therefore, a key to understanding mechanotransduction is to decouple the relative contribution of ECM cues on cellular functions.
Here we present a detailed experimental protocol to rapidly and easily generate biologically relevant hydrogels for the independent tuning of mechanotransduction cues in vitro. We chemically modified polyacrylamide hydrogels (PAAm) to surmount their intrinsically non-adhesive properties by incorporating hydroxyl-functionalized acrylamide monomers during the polymerization. We obtained a novel PAAm hydrogel, called hydroxy-PAAm, which permits immobilization of any desired nature of ECM proteins. The combination of hydroxy-PAAm hydrogels with microcontact printing allows to independently control the morphology of single-cells, the matrix stiffness, the nature and the density of ECM proteins. We provide a simple and rapid method that can be set up in every biology lab to study in vitro cell mechanotransduction processes. We validate this novel two-dimensional platform by conducting experiments on endothelial cells that demonstrate a mechanical coupling between ECM stiffness and the nucleus.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Longitudinal Measurement of Extracellular Matrix Rigidity in 3D Tumor Models Using Particle-tracking Microrheology
Institutions: University of Massachusetts Boston.
The mechanical microenvironment has been shown to act as a crucial regulator of tumor growth behavior and signaling, which is itself remodeled and modified as part of a set of complex, two-way mechanosensitive interactions. While the development of biologically-relevant 3D tumor models have facilitated mechanistic studies on the impact of matrix rheology on tumor growth, the inverse problem of mapping changes in the mechanical environment induced by tumors remains challenging. Here, we describe the implementation of particle-tracking microrheology (PTM) in conjunction with 3D models of pancreatic cancer as part of a robust and viable approach for longitudinally monitoring physical changes in the tumor microenvironment, in situ
. The methodology described here integrates a system of preparing in vitro
3D models embedded in a model extracellular matrix (ECM) scaffold of Type I collagen with fluorescently labeled probes uniformly distributed for position- and time-dependent microrheology measurements throughout the specimen. In vitro
tumors are plated and probed in parallel conditions using multiwell imaging plates. Drawing on established methods, videos of tracer probe movements are transformed via the Generalized Stokes Einstein Relation (GSER) to report the complex frequency-dependent viscoelastic shear modulus, G*(ω)
. Because this approach is imaging-based, mechanical characterization is also mapped onto large transmitted-light spatial fields to simultaneously report qualitative changes in 3D tumor size and phenotype. Representative results showing contrasting mechanical response in sub-regions associated with localized invasion-induced matrix degradation as well as system calibration, validation data are presented. Undesirable outcomes from common experimental errors and troubleshooting of these issues are also presented. The 96-well 3D culture plating format implemented in this protocol is conducive to correlation of microrheology measurements with therapeutic screening assays or molecular imaging to gain new insights into impact of treatments or biochemical stimuli on the mechanical microenvironment.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, viscoelasticity, mechanobiology, extracellular matrix (ECM), matrix remodeling, 3D tumor models, tumor microenvironment, stroma, matrix metalloprotease (MMP), epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT)
Non-enzymatic, Serum-free Tissue Culture of Pre-invasive Breast Lesions for Spontaneous Generation of Mammospheres
Institutions: George Mason University, Virginia Surgery Associates.
Breast ductal carcinoma in situ
(DCIS), by definition, is proliferation of neoplastic epithelial cells within the confines of the breast duct, without breaching the collagenous basement membrane. While DCIS is a non-obligate precursor to invasive breast cancers, the molecular mechanisms and cell populations that permit progression to invasive cancer are not fully known. To determine if progenitor cells capable of invasion existed within the DCIS cell population, we developed a methodology for collecting and culturing sterile human breast tissue at the time of surgery, without enzymatic disruption of tissue.
Sterile breast tissue containing ductal segments is harvested from surgically excised breast tissue following routine pathological examination. Tissue containing DCIS is placed in nutrient rich, antibiotic-containing, serum free medium, and transported to the tissue culture laboratory. The breast tissue is further dissected to isolate the calcified areas. Multiple breast tissue pieces (organoids) are placed in a minimal volume of serum free medium in a flask with a removable lid and cultured in a humidified CO2
incubator. Epithelial and fibroblast cell populations emerge from the organoid after 10 - 14 days. Mammospheres spontaneously form on and around the epithelial cell monolayer. Specific cell populations can be harvested directly from the flask without disrupting neighboring cells. Our non-enzymatic tissue culture system reliably reveals cytogenetically abnormal, invasive progenitor cells from fresh human DCIS lesions.
Cancer Biology, Issue 93, Breast, ductal carcinoma in situ, epidermal growth factor, mammosphere, organoid, pre-invasive, primary cell culture, serum-free, spheroid
Three Dimensional Cultures: A Tool To Study Normal Acinar Architecture vs. Malignant Transformation Of Breast Cells
Institutions: University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Invasive breast carcinomas are a group of malignant epithelial tumors characterized by the invasion of adjacent tissues and propensity to metastasize. The interplay of signals between cancer cells and their microenvironment exerts a powerful influence on breast cancer growth and biological behavior1
. However, most of these signals from the extracellular matrix are lost or their relevance is understudied when cells are grown in two dimensional culture (2D) as a monolayer. In recent years, three dimensional (3D) culture on a reconstituted basement membrane has emerged as a method of choice to recapitulate the tissue architecture of benign and malignant breast cells. Cells grown in 3D retain the important cues from the extracellular matrix and provide a physiologically relevant ex vivo
. Of note, there is growing evidence suggesting that cells behave differently when grown in 3D as compared to 2D4
. 3D culture can be effectively used as a means to differentiate the malignant phenotype from the benign breast phenotype and for underpinning the cellular and molecular signaling involved3
. One of the distinguishing characteristics of benign epithelial cells is that they are polarized so that the apical cytoplasm is towards the lumen and the basal cytoplasm rests on the basement membrane. This apico-basal polarity is lost in invasive breast carcinomas, which are characterized by cellular disorganization and formation of anastomosing and branching tubules that haphazardly infiltrates the surrounding stroma. These histopathological differences between benign gland and invasive carcinoma can be reproduced in 3D6,7
. Using the appropriate read-outs like the quantitation of single round acinar structures, or differential expression of validated molecular markers for cell proliferation, polarity and apoptosis in combination with other molecular and cell biology techniques, 3D culture can provide an important tool to better understand the cellular changes during malignant transformation and for delineating the responsible signaling.
Medicine, Issue 86, pathological conditions, signs and symptoms, neoplasms, three dimensional cultures, Matrigel, breast cells, malignant phenotype, signaling
Preparation of DNA-crosslinked Polyacrylamide Hydrogels
Institutions: JFK Medical Center, Rutgers University, Rutgers University.
Mechanobiology is an emerging scientific area that addresses the critical role of physical cues in directing cell morphology and function. For example, the effect of tissue elasticity on cell function is a major area of mechanobiology research because tissue stiffness modulates with disease, development, and injury. Static tissue-mimicking materials, or materials that cannot alter stiffness once cells are plated, are predominately used to investigate the effects of tissue stiffness on cell functions. While information gathered from static studies is valuable, these studies are not indicative of the dynamic nature of the cellular microenvironment in vivo
. To better address the effects of dynamic stiffness on cell function, we developed a DNA-crosslinked polyacrylamide hydrogel system (DNA gels). Unlike other dynamic substrates, DNA gels have the ability to decrease or increase in stiffness after fabrication without stimuli. DNA gels consist of DNA crosslinks that are polymerized into a polyacrylamide backbone. Adding and removing crosslinks via delivery of single-stranded DNA allows temporal, spatial, and reversible control of gel elasticity. We have shown in previous reports that dynamic modulation of DNA gel elasticity influences fibroblast and neuron behavior. In this report and video, we provide a schematic that describes the DNA gel crosslinking mechanisms and step-by-step instructions on the preparation DNA gels.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, bioengineering (general), Elastic, viscoelastic, bis-acrylamide, substrate, stiffness, dynamic, static, neuron, fibroblast, compliance, ECM, mechanobiology, tunable
Quantification of Breast Cancer Cell Invasiveness Using a Three-dimensional (3D) Model
Institutions: University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario, Lawson Health Research Institute.
It is now well known that the cellular and tissue microenvironment are critical regulators influencing tumor initiation and progression. Moreover, the extracellular matrix (ECM) has been demonstrated to be a critical regulator of cell behavior in culture and homeostasis in vivo
. The current approach of culturing cells on two-dimensional (2D), plastic surfaces results in the disturbance and loss of complex interactions between cells and their microenvironment. Through the use of three-dimensional (3D) culture assays, the conditions for cell-microenvironment interaction are established resembling the in vivo
microenvironment. This article provides a detailed methodology to grow breast cancer cells in a 3D basement membrane protein matrix, exemplifying the potential of 3D culture in the assessment of cell invasion into the surrounding environment. In addition, we discuss how these 3D assays have the potential to examine the loss of signaling molecules that regulate epithelial morphology by immunostaining procedures. These studies aid to identify important mechanistic details into the processes regulating invasion, required for the spread of breast cancer.
Medicine, Issue 88, Breast cancer, cell invasion, extracellular matrix (ECM), three-dimensional (3D) cultures, immunocytochemistry, Matrigel, basement membrane matrix
A Novel Stretching Platform for Applications in Cell and Tissue Mechanobiology
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Calgary, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Tools that allow the application of mechanical forces to cells and tissues or that can quantify the mechanical properties of biological tissues have contributed dramatically to the understanding of basic mechanobiology. These techniques have been extensively used to demonstrate how the onset and progression of various diseases are heavily influenced by mechanical cues. This article presents a multi-functional biaxial stretching (BAXS) platform that can either mechanically stimulate single cells or quantify the mechanical stiffness of tissues. The BAXS platform consists of four voice coil motors that can be controlled independently. Single cells can be cultured on a flexible substrate that can be attached to the motors allowing one to expose the cells to complex, dynamic, and spatially varying strain fields. Conversely, by incorporating a force load cell, one can also quantify the mechanical properties of primary tissues as they are exposed to deformation cycles. In both cases, a proper set of clamps must be designed and mounted to the BAXS platform motors in order to firmly hold the flexible substrate or the tissue of interest. The BAXS platform can be mounted on an inverted microscope to perform simultaneous transmitted light and/or fluorescence imaging to examine the structural or biochemical response of the sample during stretching experiments. This article provides experimental details of the design and usage of the BAXS platform and presents results for single cell and whole tissue studies. The BAXS platform was used to measure the deformation of nuclei in single mouse myoblast cells in response to substrate strain and to measure the stiffness of isolated mouse aortas. The BAXS platform is a versatile tool that can be combined with various optical microscopies in order to provide novel mechanobiological insights at the sub-cellular, cellular and whole tissue levels.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, cell stretching, tissue mechanics, nuclear mechanics, uniaxial, biaxial, anisotropic, mechanobiology
Adjustable Stiffness, External Fixator for the Rat Femur Osteotomy and Segmental Bone Defect Models
Institutions: Queensland University of Technology, RISystem AG.
The mechanical environment around the healing of broken bone is very important as it determines the way the fracture will heal. Over the past decade there has been great clinical interest in improving bone healing by altering the mechanical environment through the fixation stability around the lesion. One constraint of preclinical animal research in this area is the lack of experimental control over the local mechanical environment within a large segmental defect as well as osteotomies as they heal. In this paper we report on the design and use of an external fixator to study the healing of large segmental bone defects or osteotomies. This device not only allows for controlled axial stiffness on the bone lesion as it heals, but it also enables the change of stiffness during the healing process in vivo.
The conducted experiments have shown that the fixators were able to maintain a 5 mm femoral defect gap in rats in vivo
during unrestricted cage activity for at least 8 weeks. Likewise, we observed no distortion or infections, including pin infections during the entire healing period. These results demonstrate that our newly developed external fixator was able to achieve reproducible and standardized stabilization, and the alteration of the mechanical environment of in vivo
rat large bone defects and various size osteotomies. This confirms that the external fixation device is well suited for preclinical research investigations using a rat model in the field of bone regeneration and repair.
Medicine, Issue 92, external fixator, bone healing, small animal model, large bone defect and osteotomy model, rat model, mechanical environment, mechanobiology.
Assessment of Ovarian Cancer Spheroid Attachment and Invasion of Mesothelial Cells in Real Time
Institutions: MIMR-PHI Institute of Medical Research, Monash University.
Ovarian cancers metastasize by shedding into the peritoneal fluid and dispersing to distal sites within the peritoneum. Monolayer cultures do not accurately model the behaviors of cancer cells within a nonadherent environment, as cancer cells inherently aggregate into multicellular structures which contribute to the metastatic process by attaching to and invading the peritoneal lining to form secondary tumors. To model this important stage of ovarian cancer metastasis, multicellular aggregates, or spheroids, can be generated from established ovarian cancer cell lines maintained under nonadherent conditions. To mimic the peritoneal microenvironment encountered by tumor cells in vivo
, a spheroid-mesothelial co-culture model was established in which preformed spheroids are plated on top of a human mesothelial cell monolayer, formed over an extracellular matrix barrier. Methods were then developed using a real-time cell analyzer to conduct quantitative real time measurements of the invasive capacity of different ovarian cancer cell lines grown as spheroids. This approach allows for the continuous measurement of invasion over long periods of time, which has several advantages over traditional endpoint assays and more laborious real time microscopy image analyses. In short, this method enables a rapid, determination of factors which regulate the interactions between ovarian cancer spheroid cells invading through mesothelial and matrix barriers over time.
Medicine, Issue 87, Ovarian cancer, metastasis, invasion, mesothelial cells, spheroids, real time analysis
A Novel Method for Localizing Reporter Fluorescent Beads Near the Cell Culture Surface for Traction Force Microscopy
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
PA gels have long been used as a platform to study cell traction forces due to ease of fabrication and the ability to tune their elastic properties. When the substrate is coated with an extracellular matrix protein, cells adhere to the gel and apply forces, causing the gel to deform. The deformation depends on the cell traction and the elastic properties of the gel. If the deformation field of the surface is known, surface traction can be calculated using elasticity theory. Gel deformation is commonly measured by embedding fluorescent marker beads uniformly into the gel. The probes displace as the gel deforms. The probes near the surface of the gel are tracked. The displacements reported by these probes are considered as surface displacements. Their depths from the surface are ignored. This assumption introduces error in traction force evaluations. For precise measurement of cell forces, it is critical for the location of the beads to be known. We have developed a technique that utilizes simple chemistry to confine fluorescent marker beads, 0.1 and 1 µm in diameter, in PA gels, within 1.6 μm of the surface. We coat a coverslip with poly-D-lysine (PDL) and fluorescent beads. PA gel solution is then sandwiched between the coverslip and an adherent surface. The fluorescent beads transfer to the gel solution during curing. After polymerization, the PA gel contains fluorescent beads on a plane close to the gel surface.
Bioengineering, Issue 91, cell mechanics, polyacrylamide (PA) gel, traction force microscopy, fluorescent beads, poly-D-lysine (PDL), cell culture surface
A Three-dimensional Tissue Culture Model to Study Primary Human Bone Marrow and its Malignancies
Institutions: Purdue University, University of Alberta, Cross Cancer Institute.
Tissue culture has been an invaluable tool to study many aspects of cell function, from normal development to disease. Conventional cell culture methods rely on the ability of cells either to attach to a solid substratum of a tissue culture dish or to grow in suspension in liquid medium. Multiple immortal cell lines have been created and grown using such approaches, however, these methods frequently fail when primary cells need to be grown ex vivo
. Such failure has been attributed to the absence of the appropriate extracellular matrix components of the tissue microenvironment from the standard systems where tissue culture plastic is used as a surface for cell growth. Extracellular matrix is an integral component of the tissue microenvironment and its presence is crucial for the maintenance of physiological functions such as cell polarization, survival, and proliferation. Here we present a 3-dimensional tissue culture method where primary bone marrow cells are grown in extracellular matrix formulated to recapitulate the microenvironment of the human bone (rBM system). Embedded in the extracellular matrix, cells are supplied with nutrients through the medium supplemented with human plasma, thus providing a comprehensive system where cell survival and proliferation can be sustained for up to 30 days while maintaining the cellular composition of the primary tissue. Using the rBM system we have successfully grown primary bone marrow cells from normal donors and patients with amyloidosis, and various hematological malignancies. The rBM system allows for direct, in-matrix real time visualization of the cell behavior and evaluation of preclinical efficacy of novel therapeutics. Moreover, cells can be isolated from the rBM and subsequently used for in vivo
transplantation, cell sorting, flow cytometry, and nucleic acid and protein analysis. Taken together, the rBM method provides a reliable system for the growth of primary bone marrow cells under physiological conditions.
Medicine, Issue 85, extracellular matrix, 3D culture, bone marrow, hematological malignancies, primary cell culture, tumor microenvironment
Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g.
primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;
H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
Measuring the Bending Stiffness of Bacterial Cells Using an Optical Trap
Institutions: Princeton University, Princeton University.
We developed a protocol to measure the bending rigidity of filamentous rod-shaped bacteria. Forces are applied with an optical trap, a microscopic three-dimensional spring made of light that is formed when a high-intensity laser beam is focused to a very small spot by a microscope's objective lens. To bend a cell, we first bind live bacteria to a chemically-treated coverslip. As these cells grow, the middle of the cells remains bound to the coverslip but the growing ends are free of this restraint. By inducing filamentous growth with the drug cephalexin, we are able to identify cells in which one end of the cell was stuck to the surface while the other end remained unattached and susceptible to bending forces. A bending force is then applied with an optical trap by binding a polylysine-coated bead to the tip of a growing cell. Both the force and the displacement of the bead are recorded and the bending stiffness of the cell is the slope of this relationship.
Microbiology, Issue 38, optical trap, cell mechanics, E. coli, cell bending
Studying the Effects of Matrix Stiffness on Cellular Function using Acrylamide-based Hydrogels
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania .
Tissue stiffness is an important determinant of cellular function, and changes in tissue stiffness are commonly associated with fibrosis, cancer and cardiovascular disease1-11
. Traditional cell biological approaches to studying cellular function involve culturing cells on a rigid substratum (plastic dishes or glass coverslips) which cannot account for the effect of an elastic ECM or the variations in ECM stiffness between tissues. To model in vivo
tissue compliance conditions in vitro
, we and others use ECM-coated hydrogels. In our laboratory, the hydrogels are based on polyacrylamide which can mimic the range of tissue compliances seen biologically12
. "Reactive" cover slips are generated by incubation with NaOH followed by addition of 3-APTMS. Glutaraldehyde is used to cross-link the 3-APTMS and the polyacrylamide gel. A solution of acrylamide (AC), bis-acrylamide (Bis-AC) and ammonium persulfate is used for the polymerization of the hydrogel. N-hydroxysuccinimide (NHS) is incorporated into the AC solution to crosslink ECM protein to the hydrogel. Following polymerization of the hydrogel, the gel surface is coated with an ECM protein of choice such as fibronectin, vitronectin, collagen, etc.
The stiffness of a hydrogel can be determined by rheology or atomic force microscopy (AFM) and adjusted by varying the percentage of AC and/or bis-AC in the solution12
. In this manner, substratum stiffness can be matched to the stiffness of biological tissues which can also be quantified using rheology or AFM. Cells can then be seeded on these hydrogels and cultured based upon the experimental conditions required. Imaging of the cells and their recovery for molecular analysis is straightforward. For this article, we define soft substrata as those having elastic moduli (E) <3000 Pascal and stiff substrata/tissues as those with E >20,000 Pascal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 42, substrata stiffness, polyacrylamide, hydrogel, synthetic matrix, extracellular matrix, ECM
Micro-Mechanical Characterization of Lung Tissue Using Atomic Force Microscopy
Institutions: Harvard School of Public Health.
Matrix stiffness strongly influences growth, differentiation and function of adherent cells1-3
. On the macro scale the stiffness of tissues and organs within the human body span several orders of magnitude4
. Much less is known about how stiffness varies spatially within tissues, and what the scope and spatial scale of stiffness changes are in disease processes that result in tissue remodeling. To better understand how changes in matrix stiffness contribute to cellular physiology in health and disease, measurements of tissue stiffness obtained at a spatial scale relevant to resident cells are needed. This is particularly true for the lung, a highly compliant and elastic tissue in which matrix remodeling is a prominent feature in diseases such as asthma, emphysema, hypertension and fibrosis. To characterize the local mechanical environment of lung parenchyma at a spatial scale relevant to resident cells, we have developed methods to directly measure the local elastic properties of fresh murine lung tissue using atomic force microscopy (AFM) microindentation. With appropriate choice of AFM indentor, cantilever, and indentation depth, these methods allow measurements of local tissue shear modulus in parallel with phase contrast and fluorescence imaging of the region of interest. Systematic sampling of tissue strips provides maps of tissue mechanical properties that reveal local spatial variations in shear modulus. Correlations between mechanical properties and underlying anatomical and pathological features illustrate how stiffness varies with matrix deposition in fibrosis. These methods can be extended to other soft tissues and disease processes to reveal how local tissue mechanical properties vary across space and disease progression.
Biophysics, Issue 54, Atomic force microscopy, indentation, stiffness, fibrosis, extracellular matrix
Isolation of Mammary Epithelial Cells from Three-dimensional Mixed-cell Spheroid Co-culture
Institutions: Tufts Medical Center.
While enormous efforts have gone into identifying signaling pathways and molecules involved in normal and malignant cell behaviors1-2
, much of this work has been done using classical two-dimensional cell culture models, which allow for easy cell manipulation. It has become clear that intracellular signaling pathways are affected by extracellular forces, including dimensionality and cell surface tension3-4
. Multiple approaches have been taken to develop three-dimensional models that more accurately represent biologic tissue architecture3
. While these models incorporate multi-dimensionality and architectural stresses, study of the consequent effects on cells is less facile than in two-dimensional tissue culture due to the limitations of the models and the difficulty in extracting cells for subsequent analysis.
The important role of the microenvironment around tumors in tumorigenesis and tumor behavior is becoming increasingly recognized4
. Tumor stroma is composed of multiple cell types and extracellular molecules. During tumor development there are bidirectional signals between tumor cells and stromal cells5
. Although some factors participating in tumor-stroma co-evolution have been identified, there is still a need to develop simple techniques to systematically identify and study the full array of these signals6
. Fibroblasts are the most abundant cell type in normal or tumor-associated stromal tissues, and contribute to deposition and maintenance of basement membrane and paracrine growth factors7
Many groups have used three dimensional culture systems to study the role of fibroblasts on various cellular functions, including tumor response to therapies, recruitment of immune cells, signaling molecules, proliferation, apoptosis, angiogenesis, and invasion8-15
. We have optimized a simple method for assessing the effects of mammary fibroblasts on mammary epithelial cells using a commercially available extracellular matrix model to create three-dimensional cultures of mixed cell populations (co-cultures)16-22
. With continued co-culture the cells form spheroids with the fibroblasts clustering in the interior and the epithelial cells largely on the exterior of the spheroids and forming multi-cellular projections into the matrix. Manipulation of the fibroblasts that leads to altered epithelial cell invasiveness can be readily quantified by changes in numbers and length of epithelial projections23
. Furthermore, we have devised a method for isolating epithelial cells out of three-dimensional co-culture that facilitates analysis of the effects of fibroblast exposure on epithelial behavior. We have found that the effects of co-culture persist for weeks after epithelial cell isolation, permitting ample time to perform multiple assays. This method is adaptable to cells of varying malignant potential and requires no specialized equipment. This technique allows for rapid evaluation of in vitro cell models under multiple conditions, and the corresponding results can be compared to in vivo
animal tissue models as well as human tissue samples.
Molecular Biology, Issue 62, Tumor microenvironment, extracellular matrix, three-dimensional, co-culture, spheroid, mixed-cell, cell culture
Micropipette Aspiration of Substrate-attached Cells to Estimate Cell Stiffness
Institutions: University of Illinois, University of Pennsylvania .
Growing number of studies show that biomechanical properties of individual cells play major roles in multiple cellular functions, including cell proliferation, differentiation, migration and cell-cell interactions. The two key parameters of cellular biomechanics are cellular deformability or stiffness and the ability of the cells to contract and generate force. Here we describe a quick and simple method to estimate cell stiffness by measuring the degree of membrane deformation in response to negative pressure applied by a glass micropipette to the cell surface, a technique that is called Micropipette Aspiration or Microaspiration.
Microaspiration is performed by pulling a glass capillary to create a micropipette with a very small tip (2-50 μm diameter depending on the size of a cell or a tissue sample), which is then connected to a pneumatic pressure transducer and brought to a close vicinity of a cell under a microscope. When the tip of the pipette touches a cell, a step of negative pressure is applied to the pipette by the pneumatic pressure transducer generating well-defined pressure on the cell membrane. In response to pressure, the membrane is aspirated into the pipette and progressive membrane deformation or "membrane projection" into the pipette is measured as a function of time. The basic principle of this experimental approach is that the degree of membrane deformation in response to a defined mechanical force is a function of membrane stiffness. The stiffer the membrane is, the slower the rate of membrane deformation and the shorter the steady-state aspiration length.The technique can be performed on isolated cells, both in suspension and substrate-attached, large organelles, and liposomes.
Analysis is performed by comparing maximal membrane deformations achieved under a given pressure for different cell populations or experimental conditions. A "stiffness coefficient" is estimated by plotting the aspirated length of membrane deformation as a function of the applied pressure. Furthermore, the data can be further analyzed to estimate the Young's modulus of the cells (E), the most common parameter to characterize stiffness of materials. It is important to note that plasma membranes of eukaryotic cells can be viewed as a bi-component system where membrane lipid bilayer is underlied by the sub-membrane cytoskeleton and that it is the cytoskeleton that constitutes the mechanical scaffold of the membrane and dominates the deformability of the cellular envelope. This approach, therefore, allows probing the biomechanical properties of the sub-membrane cytoskeleton.
Bioengineering, Issue 67, Biophysics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Cellular Biology, Cell stiffness, biomechanics, microaspiration, cell membrane, cytoskeleton
Quantitative Measurement of Invadopodia-mediated Extracellular Matrix Proteolysis in Single and Multicellular Contexts
Institutions: West Virginia University .
Cellular invasion into local tissues is a process important in development and homeostasis. Malregulated invasion and subsequent cell movement is characteristic of multiple pathological processes, including inflammation, cardiovascular disease and tumor cell metastasis1
. Focalized proteolytic degradation of extracellular matrix (ECM) components in the epithelial or endothelial basement membrane is a critical step in initiating cellular invasion. In tumor cells, extensive in vitro
analysis has determined that ECM degradation is accomplished by ventral actin-rich membrane protrusive structures termed invadopodia2,3
. Invadopodia form in close apposition to the ECM, where they moderate ECM breakdown through the action of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). The ability of tumor cells to form invadopodia directly correlates with the ability to invade into local stroma and associated vascular components3
Visualization of invadopodia-mediated ECM degradation of cells by fluorescent microscopy using dye-labeled matrix proteins coated onto glass coverslips has emerged as the most prevalent technique for evaluating the degree of matrix proteolysis and cellular invasive potential4,5
. Here we describe a version of the standard method for generating fluorescently-labeled glass coverslips utilizing a commercially available Oregon Green-488 gelatin conjugate. This method is easily scaled to rapidly produce large numbers of coated coverslips. We show some of the common microscopic artifacts that are often encountered during this procedure and how these can be avoided. Finally, we describe standardized methods using readily available computer software to allow quantification of labeled gelatin matrix degradation mediated by individual cells and by entire cellular populations. The described procedures provide the ability to accurately and reproducibly monitor invadopodia activity, and can also serve as a platform for evaluating the efficacy of modulating protein expression or testing of anti-invasive compounds on extracellular matrix degradation in single and multicellular settings.
Cellular Biology, Issue 66, Cancer Biology, Anatomy, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, invadopodia, extracellular matrix, gelatin, confocal microscopy, quantification, oregon green
Three-dimensional Cell Culture Model for Measuring the Effects of Interstitial Fluid Flow on Tumor Cell Invasion
Institutions: Drexel University .
The growth and progression of most solid tumors depend on the initial transformation of the cancer cells and their response to stroma-associated signaling in the tumor microenvironment 1
. Previously, research on the tumor microenvironment has focused primarily on tumor-stromal interactions 1-2
. However, the tumor microenvironment also includes a variety of biophysical forces, whose effects remain poorly understood. These forces are biomechanical consequences of tumor growth that lead to changes in gene expression, cell division, differentiation and invasion3
. Matrix density 4
, stiffness 5-6
, and structure 6-7
, interstitial fluid pressure 8
, and interstitial fluid flow 8
are all altered during cancer progression.
Interstitial fluid flow in particular is higher in tumors compared to normal tissues 8-10
. The estimated interstitial fluid flow velocities were measured and found to be in the range of 0.1-3 μm s-1
, depending on tumor size and differentiation 9, 11
. This is due to elevated interstitial fluid pressure caused by tumor-induced angiogenesis and increased vascular permeability 12
. Interstitial fluid flow has been shown to increase invasion of cancer cells 13-14
, vascular fibroblasts and smooth muscle cells 15
. This invasion may be due to autologous chemotactic gradients created around cells in 3-D 16
or increased matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) expression 15
, chemokine secretion and cell adhesion molecule expression 17
. However, the mechanism by which cells sense fluid flow is not well understood. In addition to altering tumor cell behavior, interstitial fluid flow modulates the activity of other cells in the tumor microenvironment. It is associated with (a) driving differentiation of fibroblasts into tumor-promoting myofibroblasts 18
, (b) transporting of antigens and other soluble factors to lymph nodes 19
, and (c) modulating lymphatic endothelial cell morphogenesis 20
The technique presented here imposes interstitial fluid flow on cells in vitro
and quantifies its effects on invasion (Figure 1
). This method has been published in multiple studies to measure the effects of fluid flow on stromal and cancer cell invasion 13-15, 17
. By changing the matrix composition, cell type, and cell concentration, this method can be applied to other diseases and physiological systems to study the effects of interstitial flow on cellular processes such as invasion, differentiation, proliferation, and gene expression.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 65, Bioengineering, Biophysics, Cancer Biology, Cancer, interstitial fluid flow, invasion, mechanobiology, migration, three-dimensional cell culture, tumor microenvironment
Measuring the Mechanical Properties of Living Cells Using Atomic Force Microscopy
Institutions: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Mechanical properties of cells and extracellular matrix (ECM) play important roles in many biological processes including stem cell differentiation, tumor formation, and wound healing. Changes in stiffness of cells and ECM are often signs of changes in cell physiology or diseases in tissues. Hence, cell stiffness is an index to evaluate the status of cell cultures. Among the multitude of methods applied to measure the stiffness of cells and tissues, micro-indentation using an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) provides a way to reliably measure the stiffness of living cells. This method has been widely applied to characterize the micro-scale stiffness for a variety of materials ranging from metal surfaces to soft biological tissues and cells. The basic principle of this method is to indent a cell with an AFM tip of selected geometry and measure the applied force from the bending of the AFM cantilever. Fitting the force-indentation curve to the Hertz model for the corresponding tip geometry can give quantitative measurements of material stiffness. This paper demonstrates the procedure to characterize the stiffness of living cells using AFM. Key steps including the process of AFM calibration, force-curve acquisition, and data analysis using a MATLAB routine are demonstrated. Limitations of this method are also discussed.
Biophysics, Issue 76, Bioengineering, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Physics, Chemical Engineering, Biomechanics, bioengineering (general), AFM, cell stiffness, microindentation, force spectroscopy, atomic force microscopy, microscopy
Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e.
biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc
.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not
expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis
; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
Targeted Expression of GFP in the Hair Follicle Using Ex Vivo Viral Transduction
Institutions: AntiCancer, Inc..
There are many cell types in the hair follicle, including hair matrix cells which form the hair shaft and stem cells which can initiate the hair shaft during early anagen, the growth phase of the hair cycle, as well as pluripotent stem cells that play a role in hair follicle growth but have the potential to differentiate to non-follicle cells such as neurons. These properties of the hair follicle are discussed. The various cell types of the hair follicle are potential targets for gene therapy. Gene delivery system for the hair follicle using viral vectors or liposomes for gene targeting to the various cell types in the hair follicle and the results obtained are also discussed.
Cellular Biology, Issue 13, Springer Protocols, hair follicles, liposomes, adenovirus, genes, stem cells