The regulation of cellular adhesion to the extracellular matrix (ECM) is essential for cell migration and ECM remodeling. Focal adhesions are macromolecular assemblies that couple the contractile F-actin cytoskeleton to the ECM. This connection allows for the transmission of intracellular mechanical forces across the cell membrane to the underlying substrate. Recent work has shown the mechanical properties of the ECM regulate focal adhesion and F-actin morphology as well as numerous physiological processes, including cell differentiation, division, proliferation and migration. Thus, the use of cell culture substrates has become an increasingly prevalent method to precisely control and modulate ECM mechanical properties.
To quantify traction forces at focal adhesions in an adherent cell, compliant substrates are used in conjunction with high-resolution imaging and computational techniques in a method termed traction force microscopy (TFM). This technique relies on measurements of the local magnitude and direction of substrate deformations induced by cellular contraction. In combination with high-resolution fluorescence microscopy of fluorescently tagged proteins, it is possible to correlate cytoskeletal organization and remodeling with traction forces.
Here we present a detailed experimental protocol for the preparation of two-dimensional, compliant matrices for the purpose of creating a cell culture substrate with a well-characterized, tunable mechanical stiffness, which is suitable for measuring cellular contraction. These protocols include the fabrication of polyacrylamide hydrogels, coating of ECM proteins on such gels, plating cells on gels, and high-resolution confocal microscopy using a perfusion chamber. Additionally, we provide a representative sample of data demonstrating location and magnitude of cellular forces using cited TFM protocols.
16 Related JoVE Articles!
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
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)
Observing and Quantifying Fibroblast-mediated Fibrin Gel Compaction
Institutions: University of Iowa.
Cells embedded in collagen and fibrin gels attach and exert traction forces on the fibers of the gel. These forces can lead to local and global reorganization and realignment of the gel microstructure. This process proceeds in a complex manner that is dependent in part on the interplay between the location of the cells, the geometry of the gel, and the mechanical constraints on the gel. To better understand how these variables produce global fiber alignment patterns, we use time-lapse differential interference contrast (DIC) microscopy coupled with an environmentally controlled bioreactor to observe the compaction process between geometrically spaced explants (clusters of fibroblasts). The images are then analyzed with a custom image processing algorithm to obtain maps of the strain. The information obtained from this technique can be used to probe the mechanobiology of various cell-matrix interactions, which has important implications for understanding processes in wound healing, disease development, and tissue engineering applications.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, Fibrin, bioreactor, compaction, anisotropy, time-lapse microscopy, mechanobiology
Live-cell Imaging of Migrating Cells Expressing Fluorescently-tagged Proteins in a Three-dimensional Matrix
Institutions: University of California, Davis.
Traditionally, cell migration has been studied on two-dimensional, stiff plastic surfaces. However, during important biological processes such as wound healing, tissue regeneration, and cancer metastasis, cells must navigate through complex, three-dimensional extracellular tissue. To better understand the mechanisms behind these biological processes, it is important to examine the roles of the proteins responsible for driving cell migration. Here, we outline a protocol to study the mechanisms of cell migration using the epithelial cell line (MDCK), and a three-dimensional, fibrous, self-polymerizing matrix as a model system. This optically clear extracellular matrix is easily amenable to live-cell imaging studies and better mimics the physiological, soft tissue environment. This report demonstrates a technique for directly visualizing protein localization and dynamics, and deformation of the surrounding three-dimensional matrix.
Examination of protein localization and dynamics during cellular processes provides key insight into protein functions. Genetically encoded fluorescent tags provide a unique method for observing protein localization and dynamics. Using this technique, we can analyze the subcellular accumulation of key, force-generating cytoskeletal components in real-time as the cell maneuvers through the matrix. In addition, using multiple fluorescent tags with different wavelengths, we can examine the localization of multiple proteins simultaneously, thus allowing us to test, for example, whether different proteins have similar or divergent roles. Furthermore, the dynamics of fluorescently tagged proteins can be quantified using Fluorescent Recovery After Photobleaching (FRAP) analysis. This measurement assays the protein mobility and how stably bound the proteins are to the cytoskeletal network.
By combining live-cell imaging with the treatment of protein function inhibitors, we can examine in real-time the changes in the distribution of proteins and morphology of migrating cells. Furthermore, we also combine live-cell imaging with the use of fluorescent tracer particles embedded within the matrix to visualize the matrix deformation during cell migration. Thus, we can visualize how a migrating cell distributes force-generating proteins, and where the traction forces are exerted to the surrounding matrix. Through these techniques, we can gain valuable insight into the roles of specific proteins and their contributions to the mechanisms of cell migration.
Bioengineering, Issue 58, cell invasion, three-dimensional matrix, collagen gel, live-cell confocal imaging, FRAP, GFP, epithelial cyst
Adhesion Frequency Assay for In Situ Kinetics Analysis of Cross-Junctional Molecular Interactions at the Cell-Cell Interface
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology .
The micropipette adhesion assay was developed in 1998 to measure two-dimensional (2D) receptor-ligand binding kinetics1
. The assay uses a human red blood cell (RBC) as adhesion sensor and presenting cell for one of the interacting molecules. It employs micromanipulation to bring the RBC into contact with another cell that expresses the other interacting molecule with precisely controlled area and time to enable bond formation. The adhesion event is detected as RBC elongation upon pulling the two cells apart. By controlling the density of the ligands immobilized on the RBC surface, the probability of adhesion is kept in mid-range between 0 and 1. The adhesion probability is estimated from the frequency of adhesion events in a sequence of repeated contact cycles between the two cells for a given contact time. Varying the contact time generates a binding curve. Fitting a probabilistic model for receptor-ligand reaction kinetics1
to the binding curve returns the 2D affinity and off-rate.
The assay has been validated using interactions of Fcγ receptors with IgG Fc1-6
, selectins with glycoconjugate ligands6-9
, integrins with ligands10-13
, homotypical cadherin binding14
, T cell receptor and coreceptor with peptide-major histocompatibility complexes15-19
The method has been used to quantify regulations of 2D kinetics by biophysical factors, such as the membrane microtopology5
, membrane anchor2
, molecular orientation and length6
, carrier stiffness9
, and impingement force20
, as well as biochemical factors, such as modulators of the cytoskeleton and membrane microenvironment where the interacting molecules reside and the surface organization of these molecules15,17,19
The method has also been used to study the concurrent binding of dual receptor-ligand species3,4
, and trimolecular interactions19
using a modified model21
The major advantage of the method is that it allows study of receptors in their native membrane environment. The results could be very different from those obtained using purified receptors17
. It also allows study of the receptor-ligand interactions in a sub-second timescale with temporal resolution well beyond the typical biochemical methods.
To illustrate the micropipette adhesion frequency method, we show kinetics measurement of intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1) functionalized on RBCs binding to integrin αL
on neutrophils with dimeric E-selectin in the solution to activate αL
Bioengineering, Issue 57, Two-dimensional binding, affinity and kinetics, micropipette manipulation, receptor-ligand interaction
In vitro Mesothelial Clearance Assay that Models the Early Steps of Ovarian Cancer Metastasis
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States1
. Despite a positive initial response to therapies, 70 to 90 percent of women with ovarian cancer develop new metastases, and the recurrence is often fatal2
. It is, therefore, necessary to understand how secondary metastases arise in order to develop better treatments for intermediate and late stage ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer metastasis occurs when malignant cells detach from the primary tumor site and disseminate throughout the peritoneal cavity. The disseminated cells can form multicellular clusters, or spheroids, that will either remain unattached, or implant onto organs within the peritoneal cavity3
(Figure 1, Movie 1).
All of the organs within the peritoneal cavity are lined with a single, continuous, layer of mesothelial cells4-6
(Figure 2). However, mesothelial cells are absent from underneath peritoneal tumor masses, as revealed by electron micrograph studies of excised human tumor tissue sections3,5-7
(Figure 2). This suggests that mesothelial cells are excluded from underneath the tumor mass by an unknown process.
Previous in vitro
experiments demonstrated that primary ovarian cancer cells attach more efficiently to extracellular matrix than to mesothelial cells8
, and more recent studies showed that primary peritoneal mesothelial cells actually provide a barrier to ovarian cancer cell adhesion and invasion (as compared to adhesion and invasion on substrates that were not covered with mesothelial cells)9,10
. This would suggest that mesothelial cells act as a barrier against ovarian cancer metastasis. The cellular and molecular mechanisms by which ovarian cancer cells breach this barrier, and exclude the mesothelium have, until recently, remained unknown.
Here we describe the methodology for an in vitro
assay that models the interaction between ovarian cancer cell spheroids and mesothelial cells in vivo
(Figure 3, Movie 2). Our protocol was adapted from previously described methods for analyzing ovarian tumor cell interactions with mesothelial monolayers8-16
, and was first described in a report showing that ovarian tumor cells utilize an integrin –dependent activation of myosin and traction force to promote the exclusion of the mesothelial cells from under a tumor spheroid17
. This model takes advantage of time-lapse fluorescence microscopy to monitor the two cell populations in real time, providing spatial and temporal information on the interaction. The ovarian cancer cells express red fluorescent protein (RFP) while the mesothelial cells express green fluorescent protein (GFP). RFP-expressing ovarian cancer cell spheroids attach to the GFP-expressing mesothelial monolayer. The spheroids spread, invade, and force the mesothelial cells aside creating a hole in the monolayer. This hole is visualized as the negative space (black) in the GFP image. The area of the hole can then be measured to quantitatively analyze differences in clearance activity between control and experimental populations of ovarian cancer and/ or mesothelial cells. This assay requires only a small number of ovarian cancer cells (100 cells per spheroid X 20-30 spheroids per condition), so it is feasible to perform this assay using precious primary tumor cell samples. Furthermore, this assay can be easily adapted for high throughput screening.
Medicine, Issue 60, Ovarian Cancer, Metastasis, In vitro Model, Mesothelial, Spheroid
A Novel Three-dimensional Flow Chamber Device to Study Chemokine-directed Extravasation of Cells Circulating under Physiological Flow Conditions
Institutions: Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, Cascade LifeSciences Inc..
Extravasation of circulating cells from the bloodstream plays a central role in many physiological and pathophysiological processes, including stem cell homing and tumor metastasis. The three-dimensional flow chamber device (hereafter the 3D device) is a novel in vitro
technology that recreates physiological shear stress and allows each step of the cell extravasation cascade to be quantified. The 3D device consists of an upper compartment in which the cells of interest circulate under shear stress, and a lower compartment of static wells that contain the chemoattractants of interest. The two compartments are separated by porous inserts coated with a monolayer of endothelial cells (EC). An optional second insert with microenvironmental cells of interest can be placed immediately beneath the EC layer. A gas exchange unit allows the optimal CO2
tension to be maintained and provides an access point to add or withdraw cells or compounds during the experiment. The test cells circulate in the upper compartment at the desired shear stress (flow rate) controlled by a peristaltic pump. At the end of the experiment, the circulating and migrated cells are collected for further analyses. The 3D device can be used to examine cell rolling on and adhesion to EC under shear stress, transmigration in response to chemokine gradients, resistance to shear stress, cluster formation, and cell survival. In addition, the optional second insert allows the effects of crosstalk between EC and microenvironmental cells to be examined. The translational applications of the 3D device include testing of drug candidates that target cell migration and predicting the in vivo
behavior of cells after intravenous injection. Thus, the novel 3D device is a versatile and inexpensive tool to study the molecular mechanisms that mediate cellular extravasation.
Bioengineering, Issue 77, Cellular Biology, Biophysics, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Immunology, Cells, Biological Factors, Equipment and Supplies, Cell Physiological Phenomena, Natural Science Disciplines, Life Sciences (General), circulating cells, extravasation, physiological shear stress, endothelial cells, microenvironment, chemokine gradient, flow, chamber, cell culture, assay
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Magnetic Tweezers for the Measurement of Twist and Torque
Institutions: Delft University of Technology.
Single-molecule techniques make it possible to investigate the behavior of individual biological molecules in solution in real time. These techniques include so-called force spectroscopy approaches such as atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, flow stretching, and magnetic tweezers. Amongst these approaches, magnetic tweezers have distinguished themselves by their ability to apply torque while maintaining a constant stretching force. Here, it is illustrated how such a “conventional” magnetic tweezers experimental configuration can, through a straightforward modification of its field configuration to minimize the magnitude of the transverse field, be adapted to measure the degree of twist in a biological molecule. The resulting configuration is termed the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers. Additionally, it is shown how further modification of the field configuration can yield a transverse field with a magnitude intermediate between that of the “conventional” magnetic tweezers and the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, which makes it possible to directly measure the torque stored in a biological molecule. This configuration is termed the magnetic torque tweezers. The accompanying video explains in detail how the conversion of conventional magnetic tweezers into freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers and magnetic torque tweezers can be accomplished, and demonstrates the use of these techniques. These adaptations maintain all the strengths of conventional magnetic tweezers while greatly expanding the versatility of this powerful instrument.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, magnetic tweezers, magnetic torque tweezers, freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, twist, torque, DNA, single-molecule techniques
Analysis of Cell Migration within a Three-dimensional Collagen Matrix
Institutions: Witten/Herdecke University.
The ability to migrate is a hallmark of various cell types and plays a crucial role in several physiological processes, including embryonic development, wound healing, and immune responses. However, cell migration is also a key mechanism in cancer enabling these cancer cells to detach from the primary tumor to start metastatic spreading. Within the past years various cell migration assays have been developed to analyze the migratory behavior of different cell types. Because the locomotory behavior of cells markedly differs between a two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) environment it can be assumed that the analysis of the migration of cells that are embedded within a 3D environment would yield in more significant cell migration data. The advantage of the described 3D collagen matrix migration assay is that cells are embedded within a physiological 3D network of collagen fibers representing the major component of the extracellular matrix. Due to time-lapse video microscopy real cell migration is measured allowing the determination of several migration parameters as well as their alterations in response to pro-migratory factors or inhibitors. Various cell types could be analyzed using this technique, including lymphocytes/leukocytes, stem cells, and tumor cells. Likewise, also cell clusters or spheroids could be embedded within the collagen matrix concomitant with analysis of the emigration of single cells from the cell cluster/ spheroid into the collagen lattice. We conclude that the 3D collagen matrix migration assay is a versatile method to analyze the migration of cells within a physiological-like 3D environment.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cell migration, 3D collagen matrix, cell tracking
Preparation of Hydroxy-PAAm Hydrogels for Decoupling the Effects of Mechanotransduction Cues
Institutions: Université de Mons.
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.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, hydrogels, mechanotransduction, polyacrylamide, microcontact printing, cell shape, stiffness, durotaxis, cell-ligand density
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
Microfabricated Post-Array-Detectors (mPADs): an Approach to Isolate Mechanical Forces
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania , University of Washington.
In this video, we will present our approach to measure cellular traction forces using a microfabricated array of posts. Traction forces are generated through myosin-actin interactions and play an important role in our physiology. During development, they enable cells to move from one location to the next in order to form the early structures of tissue. Traction forces help in the healing processes. They are necessary for the proper closure of wounds or the migration and crawling of leukocytes through our body. These same forces can be detrimental to our health in the case of cancer metastasis or vascular growth towards a tumor. The most common method by which to study cells in vitro has been to use a glass or polystyrene dish. However, the rigidity of the substrates makes it impossible to physically measure cell traction forces, and there are relatively few methods to study traction forces. Our lab has developed a technique to overcome these limitations. The method is based on a vertical array of flexible cantilevers, the stiffness and size scale of which are such that individual cells spread across many cantilevers and deflect them in the process. The pillars we use are 3 μm in diameter, 10 μm tall, and are configured in a regular array with 9 μm center-to-center spacing. But these physical dimensions can be readily varied to accommodate a variety of studies. We start with a silicon master, but the final posts are made out of silicone rubber called poly (dimethyl siloxane), or PDMS. We can measure the deflections under a microscope and calculate the magnitude and direction of traction forces required to produce the observed deflections. We call these substrates microfabricated post-array-detectors, or mPADs. Here, we will show you how we fabricate and use the mPADs to assess modulations of cellular contractility.
Cellular biology, Issue 8, mechanotransduction, traction force, microfabrication
Reaggregate Thymus Cultures
Institutions: University of Birmingham .
Stromal cells within lymphoid tissues are organized into three-dimensional structures that provide a scaffold that is thought to control the migration and development of haemopoeitic cells. Importantly, the maintenance of this three-dimensional organization appears to be critical for normal stromal cell function, with two-dimensional monolayer cultures often being shown to be capable of supporting only individual fragments of lymphoid tissue function. In the thymus, complex networks of cortical and medullary epithelial cells act as a framework that controls the recruitment, proliferation, differentiation and survival of lymphoid progenitors as they undergo the multi-stage process of intrathymic T-cell development. Understanding the functional role of individual stromal compartments in the thymus is essential in determining how the thymus imposes self/non-self discrimination. Here we describe a technique in which we exploit the plasticity of fetal tissues to re-associate into intact three-dimensional structures in vitro
, following their enzymatic disaggregation. The dissociation of fetal thymus lobes into heterogeneous cellular mixtures, followed by their separation into individual cellular components, is then combined with the in vitro
re-association of these desired cell types into three-dimensional reaggregate structures at defined ratios, thereby providing an opportunity to investigate particular aspects of T-cell development under defined cellular conditions. (This article is based on work first reported Methods in Molecular Biology 2007, Vol. 380 pages 185-196).
Immunology, Issue 18, Springer Protocols, Thymus, 2-dGuo, Thymus Organ Cultures, Immune Tolerance, Positive and Negative Selection, Lymphoid Development
A Simple Hanging Drop Cell Culture Protocol for Generation of 3D Spheroids
Institutions: UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Studies of cell-cell cohesion and cell-substratum adhesion have historically been performed on monolayer cultures adherent to rigid substrates. Cells within a tissue, however, are typically encased within a closely packed tissue mass in which cells establish intimate connections with many near-neighbors and with extracellular matrix components. Accordingly, the chemical milieu and physical forces experienced by cells within a 3D tissue are fundamentally different than those experienced by cells grown in monolayer culture. This has been shown to markedly impact cellular morphology and signaling. Several methods have been devised to generate 3D cell cultures including encapsulation of cells in collagen gels1
or in biomaterial scaffolds2
. Such methods, while useful, do not recapitulate the intimate direct cell-cell adhesion architecture found in normal tissues. Rather, they more closely approximate culture systems in which single cells are loosely dispersed within a 3D meshwork of ECM products. Here, we describe a simple method in which cells are placed in hanging drop culture and incubated under physiological conditions until they form true 3D spheroids in which cells are in direct contact with each other and with extracellular matrix components. The method requires no specialized equipment and can be adapted to include addition of any biological agent in very small quantities that may be of interest in elucidating effects on cell-cell or cell-ECM interaction. The method can also be used to co-culture two (or more) different cell populations so as to elucidate the role of cell-cell or cell-ECM interactions in specifying spatial relationships between cells. Cell-cell cohesion and cell-ECM adhesion are the cornerstones of studies of embryonic development, tumor-stromal cell interaction in malignant invasion, wound healing, and for applications to tissue engineering. This simple method will provide a means of generating tissue-like cellular aggregates for measurement of biomechanical properties or for molecular and biochemical analysis in a physiologically relevant model.
Bioengineering, Issue 51, 3D, hanging drop cultures, cell sorting-out, differential adhesion
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