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.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Capillary Force Lithography for Cardiac Tissue Engineering
Institutions: University of Washington, University of Washington.
Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide1
. Cardiac tissue engineering holds much promise to deliver groundbreaking medical discoveries with the aims of developing functional tissues for cardiac regeneration as well as in vitro
screening assays. However, the ability to create high-fidelity models of heart tissue has proven difficult. The heart’s extracellular matrix (ECM) is a complex structure consisting of both biochemical and biomechanical signals ranging from the micro- to the nanometer scale2
. Local mechanical loading conditions and cell-ECM interactions have recently been recognized as vital components in cardiac tissue engineering3-5
A large portion of the cardiac ECM is composed of aligned collagen fibers with nano-scale diameters that significantly influences tissue architecture and electromechanical coupling2
. Unfortunately, few methods have been able to mimic the organization of ECM fibers down to the nanometer scale. Recent advancements in nanofabrication techniques, however, have enabled the design and fabrication of scalable scaffolds that mimic the in vivo
structural and substrate stiffness cues of the ECM in the heart6-9
Here we present the development of two reproducible, cost-effective, and scalable nanopatterning processes for the functional alignment of cardiac cells using the biocompatible polymer poly(lactide-co-glycolide) (PLGA)8
and a polyurethane (PU) based polymer. These anisotropically nanofabricated substrata (ANFS) mimic the underlying ECM of well-organized, aligned tissues and can be used to investigate the role of nanotopography on cell morphology and function10-14
Using a nanopatterned (NP) silicon master as a template, a polyurethane acrylate (PUA) mold is fabricated. This PUA mold is then used to pattern the PU or PLGA hydrogel via UV-assisted or solvent-mediated capillary force lithography (CFL), respectively15,16
. Briefly, PU or PLGA pre-polymer is drop dispensed onto a glass coverslip and the PUA mold is placed on top. For UV-assisted CFL, the PU is then exposed to UV radiation (λ = 250-400 nm) for curing. For solvent-mediated CFL, the PLGA is embossed using heat (120 °C) and pressure (100 kPa). After curing, the PUA mold is peeled off, leaving behind an ANFS for cell culture. Primary cells, such as neonatal rat ventricular myocytes, as well as human pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes, can be maintained on the ANFS2
Bioengineering, Issue 88, Nanotopography, Anisotropic, Nanofabrication, Cell Culture, Cardiac Tissue Engineering
Directed Cellular Self-Assembly to Fabricate Cell-Derived Tissue Rings for Biomechanical Analysis and Tissue Engineering
Institutions: Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of patients undergo coronary artery bypass surgery in the United States.1
Approximately one third of these patients do not have suitable autologous donor vessels due to disease progression or previous harvest. The aim of vascular tissue engineering is to develop a suitable alternative source for these bypass grafts. In addition, engineered vascular tissue may prove valuable as living vascular models to study cardiovascular diseases. Several promising approaches to engineering blood vessels have been explored, with many recent studies focusing on development and analysis of cell-based methods.2-5
Herein, we present a method to rapidly self-assemble cells into 3D tissue rings that can be used in vitro to model vascular tissues.
To do this, suspensions of smooth muscle cells are seeded into round-bottomed annular agarose wells. The non-adhesive properties of the agarose allow the cells to settle, aggregate and contract around a post at the center of the well to form a cohesive tissue ring.6,7
These rings can be cultured for several days prior to harvesting for mechanical, physiological, biochemical, or histological analysis. We have shown that these cell-derived tissue rings yield at 100-500 kPa ultimate tensile strength8
which exceeds the value reported for other tissue engineered vascular constructs cultured for similar durations (<30 kPa).9,10
Our results demonstrate that robust cell-derived vascular tissue ring generation can be achieved within a short time period, and offers the opportunity for direct and quantitative assessment of the contributions of cells and cell-derived matrix (CDM) to vascular tissue structure and function.
Bioengineering, Issue 57, Cell-derived matrix, vascular tissue engineering, smooth muscle cells, cellular self-assembly, tissue biomechanics
Quantifying the Mechanical Properties of the Endothelial Glycocalyx with Atomic Force Microscopy
Institutions: University of Rochester .
Our understanding of the interaction of leukocytes and the vessel wall during leukocyte capture is limited by an incomplete understanding of the mechanical properties of the endothelial surface layer. It is known that adhesion molecules on leukocytes are distributed non-uniformly relative to surface topography 3
, that topography limits adhesive bond formation with other surfaces 9
, and that physiological contact forces (≈ 5.0 − 10.0 pN per microvillus) can compress the microvilli to as little as a third of their resting length, increasing the accessibility of molecules to the opposing surface 3, 7
. We consider the endothelium as a two-layered structure, the relatively rigid cell body, plus the glycocalyx, a soft protective sugar coating on the luminal surface 6
. It has been shown that the glycocalyx can act as a barrier to reduce adhesion of leukocytes to the endothelial surface 4
. In this report we begin to address the deformability of endothelial surfaces to understand how the endothelial mechanical stiffness might affect bond formation. Endothelial cells grown in static culture do not express a robust glycocalyx, but cells grown under physiological flow conditions begin to approximate the glycocalyx observed in vivo 2
. The modulus of the endothelial cell body has been measured using atomic force microscopy (AFM) to be approximately 5 to 20 kPa 5
. The thickness and structure of the glycocalyx have been studied using electron microscopy 8
, and the modulus of the glycocalyx has been approximated using indirect methods, but to our knowledge, there have been no published reports of a direct measurement of the glycocalyx modulus in living cells. In this study, we present indentation experiments made with a novel AFM probe on cells that have been cultured in conditions to maximize their glycocalyx expression to make direct measurements of the modulus and thickness of the endothelial glycocalyx.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 72, Bioengineering, Cellular Biology, Biophysics, Molecular Biology, Endothelium, Vascular, Membrane Glycoproteins, Receptors, Leukocyte-Adhesion, bioengineering (general), glycocalyx, mechanical properties, atomic force microscopy, ATM, Endothelial cells, leukocytes, cell wall, cell culture, microscopy, imaging
Rapid and Low-cost Prototyping of Medical Devices Using 3D Printed Molds for Liquid Injection Molding
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco, University of Southern California.
Biologically inert elastomers such as silicone are favorable materials for medical device fabrication, but forming and curing these elastomers using traditional liquid injection molding processes can be an expensive process due to tooling and equipment costs. As a result, it has traditionally been impractical to use liquid injection molding for low-cost, rapid prototyping applications. We have devised a method for rapid and low-cost production of liquid elastomer injection molded devices that utilizes fused deposition modeling 3D printers for mold design and a modified desiccator as an injection system. Low costs and rapid turnaround time in this technique lower the barrier to iteratively designing and prototyping complex elastomer devices. Furthermore, CAD models developed in this process can be later adapted for metal mold tooling design, enabling an easy transition to a traditional injection molding process. We have used this technique to manufacture intravaginal probes involving complex geometries, as well as overmolding over metal parts, using tools commonly available within an academic research laboratory. However, this technique can be easily adapted to create liquid injection molded devices for many other applications.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, liquid injection molding, reaction injection molding, molds, 3D printing, fused deposition modeling, rapid prototyping, medical devices, low cost, low volume, rapid turnaround time.
In situ Compressive Loading and Correlative Noninvasive Imaging of the Bone-periodontal Ligament-tooth Fibrous Joint
Institutions: University of California San Francisco, University of California San Francisco, Xradia Inc..
This study demonstrates a novel biomechanics testing protocol. The advantage of this protocol includes the use of an in situ
loading device coupled to a high resolution X-ray microscope, thus enabling visualization of internal structural elements under simulated physiological loads and wet conditions. Experimental specimens will include intact bone-periodontal ligament (PDL)-tooth fibrous joints. Results will illustrate three important features of the protocol as they can be applied to organ level biomechanics: 1) reactionary force vs. displacement: tooth displacement within the alveolar socket and its reactionary response to loading, 2) three-dimensional (3D) spatial configuration and morphometrics: geometric relationship of the tooth with the alveolar socket, and 3) changes in readouts 1 and 2 due to a change in loading axis, i.e.
from concentric to eccentric loads. Efficacy of the proposed protocol will be evaluated by coupling mechanical testing readouts to 3D morphometrics and overall biomechanics of the joint. In addition, this technique will emphasize on the need to equilibrate experimental conditions, specifically reactionary loads prior to acquiring tomograms of fibrous joints. It should be noted that the proposed protocol is limited to testing specimens under ex vivo
conditions, and that use of contrast agents to visualize soft tissue mechanical response could lead to erroneous conclusions about tissue and organ-level biomechanics.
Bioengineering, Issue 85, biomechanics, bone-periodontal ligament-tooth complex, concentric loads, eccentric loads, contrast agent
Simple Microfluidic Devices for in vivo Imaging of C. elegans, Drosophila and Zebrafish
Institutions: NCBS-TIFR, TIFR.
Micro fabricated fluidic devices provide an accessible micro-environment for in vivo
studies on small organisms. Simple fabrication processes are available for microfluidic devices using soft lithography techniques 1-3
. Microfluidic devices have been used for sub-cellular imaging 4,5
, in vivo
laser microsurgery 2,6
and cellular imaging 4,7
. In vivo
imaging requires immobilization of organisms. This has been achieved using suction 5,8
, tapered channels 6,7,9
, deformable membranes 2-4,10
, suction with additional cooling 5
, anesthetic gas 11
, temperature sensitive gels 12
, cyanoacrylate glue 13
and anesthetics such as levamisole 14,15
. Commonly used anesthetics influence synaptic transmission 16,17
and are known to have detrimental effects on sub-cellular neuronal transport 4
. In this study we demonstrate a membrane based poly-dimethyl-siloxane (PDMS) device that allows anesthetic free immobilization of intact genetic model organisms such as Caenorhabditis elegans
larvae and zebrafish larvae. These model organisms are suitable for in vivo
studies in microfluidic devices because of their small diameters and optically transparent or translucent bodies. Body diameters range from ~10 μm to ~800 μm for early larval stages of C. elegans
and zebrafish larvae and require microfluidic devices of different sizes to achieve complete immobilization for high resolution time-lapse imaging. These organisms are immobilized using pressure applied by compressed nitrogen gas through a liquid column and imaged using an inverted microscope. Animals released from the trap return to normal locomotion within 10 min.
We demonstrate four applications of time-lapse imaging in C. elegans
namely, imaging mitochondrial transport in neurons, pre-synaptic vesicle transport in a transport-defective mutant, glutamate receptor transport and Q neuroblast cell division. Data obtained from such movies show that microfluidic immobilization is a useful and accurate means of acquiring in vivo
data of cellular and sub-cellular events when compared to anesthetized animals (Figure 1J
and 3C-F 4
Device dimensions were altered to allow time-lapse imaging of different stages of C. elegans
, first instar Drosophila
larvae and zebrafish larvae. Transport of vesicles marked with synaptotagmin tagged with GFP (syt.eGFP) in sensory neurons shows directed motion of synaptic vesicle markers expressed in cholinergic sensory neurons in intact first instar Drosophila
larvae. A similar device has been used to carry out time-lapse imaging of heartbeat in ~30 hr post fertilization (hpf) zebrafish larvae. These data show that the simple devices we have developed can be applied to a variety of model systems to study several cell biological and developmental phenomena in vivo
Bioengineering, Issue 67, Molecular Biology, Neuroscience, Microfluidics, C. elegans, Drosophila larvae, zebrafish larvae, anesthetic, pre-synaptic vesicle transport, dendritic transport of glutamate receptors, mitochondrial transport, synaptotagmin transport, heartbeat
Microfluidic Picoliter Bioreactor for Microbial Single-cell Analysis: Fabrication, System Setup, and Operation
Institutions: Forschungszentrum Juelich GmbH.
In this protocol the fabrication, experimental setup and basic operation of the recently introduced microfluidic picoliter bioreactor (PLBR) is described in detail. The PLBR can be utilized for the analysis of single bacteria and microcolonies to investigate biotechnological and microbiological related questions concerning, e.g.
cell growth, morphology, stress response, and metabolite or protein production on single-cell level. The device features continuous media flow enabling constant environmental conditions for perturbation studies, but in addition allows fast medium changes as well as oscillating conditions to mimic any desired environmental situation. To fabricate the single use devices, a silicon wafer containing sub micrometer sized SU-8 structures served as the replication mold for rapid polydimethylsiloxane casting. Chips were cut, assembled, connected, and set up onto a high resolution and fully automated microscope suited for time-lapse imaging, a powerful tool for spatio-temporal cell analysis. Here, the biotechnological platform organism Corynebacterium glutamicum
was seeded into the PLBR and cell growth and intracellular fluorescence were followed over several hours unraveling time dependent population heterogeneity on single-cell level, not possible with conventional analysis methods such as flow cytometry. Besides insights into device fabrication, furthermore, the preparation of the preculture, loading, trapping of bacteria, and the PLBR cultivation of single cells and colonies is demonstrated. These devices will add a new dimension in microbiological research to analyze time dependent phenomena of single bacteria under tight environmental control. Due to the simple and relatively short fabrication process the technology can be easily adapted at any microfluidics lab and simply tailored towards specific needs.
Bioengineering, Issue 82, Soft lithography, SU-8 lithography, Picoliter bioreactor, Single-cell analysis, Polydimethylsiloxane, Corynebacterium glutamicum, Escherichia coli, Microfluidics, Lab-on-a-chip
Procedure for the Development of Multi-depth Circular Cross-sectional Endothelialized Microchannels-on-a-chip
Institutions: West Virginia University, University of California at Riverside.
Efforts have been focused on developing in vitro
assays for the study of microvessels because in vivo
animal studies are more time-consuming, expensive, and observation and quantification are very challenging. However, conventional in vitro
microvessel assays have limitations when representing in vivo
microvessels with respect to three-dimensional (3D) geometry and providing continuous fluid flow. Using a combination of photolithographic reflowable photoresist technique, soft lithography, and microfluidics, we have developed a multi-depth circular cross-sectional endothelialized microchannels-on-a-chip, which mimics the 3D geometry of in vivo
microvessels and runs under controlled continuous perfusion flow. A positive reflowable photoresist was used to fabricate a master mold with a semicircular cross-sectional microchannel network. By the alignment and bonding of the two polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) microchannels replicated from the master mold, a cylindrical microchannel network was created. The diameters of the microchannels can be well controlled. In addition, primary human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) seeded inside the chip showed that the cells lined the inner surface of the microchannels under controlled perfusion lasting for a time period between 4 days to 2 weeks.
Bioengineering, Issue 80, Bioengineering, Tissue Engineering, Miniaturization, Microtechnology, Microfluidics, Reflow photoresist, PDMS, Perfusion flow, Primary endothelial cells
Lensless Fluorescent Microscopy on a Chip
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
On-chip lensless imaging in general aims to replace bulky lens-based optical microscopes with simpler and more compact designs, especially for high-throughput screening applications. This emerging technology platform has the potential to eliminate the need for bulky and/or costly optical components through the help of novel theories and digital reconstruction algorithms. Along the same lines, here we demonstrate an on-chip fluorescent microscopy modality that can achieve e.g., <4μm spatial resolution over an ultra-wide field-of-view (FOV) of >0.6-8 cm2
without the use of any lenses, mechanical-scanning or thin-film based interference filters. In this technique, fluorescent excitation is achieved through a prism or hemispherical-glass interface illuminated by an incoherent source. After interacting with the entire object volume, this excitation light is rejected by total-internal-reflection (TIR) process that is occurring at the bottom of the sample micro-fluidic chip. The fluorescent emission from the excited objects is then collected by a fiber-optic faceplate or a taper and is delivered to an optoelectronic sensor array such as a charge-coupled-device (CCD). By using a compressive-sampling based decoding algorithm, the acquired lensfree raw fluorescent images of the sample can be rapidly processed to yield e.g., <4μm resolution over an FOV of >0.6-8 cm2
. Moreover, vertically stacked micro-channels that are separated by e.g., 50-100 μm can also be successfully imaged using the same lensfree on-chip microscopy platform, which further increases the overall throughput of this modality. This compact on-chip fluorescent imaging platform, with a rapid compressive decoder behind it, could be rather valuable for high-throughput cytometry, rare-cell research and microarray-analysis.
Bioengineering, Issue 54, Lensless Microscopy, Fluorescent On-chip Imaging, Wide-field Microscopy, On-Chip Cytometry, Compressive Sampling/Sensing
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
Magnetic Resonance Elastography Methodology for the Evaluation of Tissue Engineered Construct Growth
Institutions: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Traditional mechanical testing often results in the destruction of the sample, and in the case of long term tissue engineered construct studies, the use of destructive assessment is not acceptable. A proposed alternative is the use of an imaging process called magnetic resonance elastography. Elastography is a nondestructive method for determining the engineered outcome by measuring local mechanical property values (i.e., complex shear modulus), which are essential markers for identifying the structure and functionality of a tissue. As a noninvasive means for evaluation, the monitoring of engineered constructs with imaging modalities such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has seen increasing interest in the past decade1
. For example, the magnetic resonance (MR) techniques of diffusion and relaxometry have been able to characterize the changes in chemical and physical properties during engineered tissue development2
. The method proposed in the following protocol uses microscopic magnetic resonance elastography (μMRE) as a noninvasive MR based technique for measuring the mechanical properties of small soft tissues3
. MRE is achieved by coupling a sonic mechanical actuator with the tissue of interest and recording the shear wave propagation with an MR scanner4
. Recently, μMRE has been applied in tissue engineering to acquire essential growth information that is traditionally measured using destructive mechanical macroscopic techniques5
. In the following procedure, elastography is achieved through the imaging of engineered constructs with a modified Hahn spin-echo sequence coupled with a mechanical actuator. As shown in Figure 1, the modified sequence synchronizes image acquisition with the transmission of external shear waves; subsequently, the motion is sensitized through the use of oscillating bipolar pairs. Following collection of images with positive and negative motion sensitization, complex division of the data produce a shear wave image. Then, the image is assessed using an inversion algorithm to generate a shear stiffness map6
. The resulting measurements at each voxel have been shown to strongly correlate (R2
>0.9914) with data collected using dynamic mechanical analysis7
. In this study, elastography is integrated into the tissue development process for monitoring human mesenchymal stem cell (h
MSC) differentiation into adipogenic and osteogenic constructs as shown in Figure 2.
Bioengineering, Issue 60, mesenchymal stem cells, tissue engineering (TE), regenerative medicine, adipose TE, magnetic resonance elastography (MRE), biomechanics, elasticity
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 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
Fabrication and Use of MicroEnvironment microArrays (MEArrays)
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley .
The interactions between cells and their surrounding microenvironment have functional consequences for cellular behaviour. On the single cell level, distinct microenvironments can impose differentiation, migration, and proliferation phenotypes, and on the tissue level the microenvironment processes as complex as morphogenesis and tumorigenesis1
. Not only do the cell and molecular contents of microenvironments impact the cells within, but so do the elasticity2
of the tissue. Defined as the sum total of cell-cell, -ECM, and -soluble factor interactions, in addition to physical characteristics, the microenvironment is complex. The phenotypes of cells within a tissue are partially due to their genomic content and partially due to the combinatorial interactions with the microenviroment. A major challenge is to link specific combinations of microenvironmental components with distinctive behaviours.
Here, we present the microenvironment microarray (MEArray) platform for cell-based functional screening of interactions with combinatorial microenvironments4
. The method allows for simultaneous control of the molecular composition and the elastic modulus, and combines the use of widely available microarray and micropatterning technologies. MEArray screens require as few as 10,000 cells per array, which facilitates functional studies of rare cell types such as adult progenitor cells. A limitation of the technology is that entire tissue microenvironments cannot be completely recapitulated on MEArrays. However, comparison of responses in the same cell type to numerous related microenvironments, for instance pairwise combinations of ECM proteins that characterize a given tissue, will provide insights into how microenvironmental components elicit tissue-specific functional phenotypes.
MEArrays can be printed using a wide variety of recombinant growth factors, cytokines, and purified ECM proteins, and combinations thereof. The platform is limited only by the availability of specific reagents. MEArrays are amenable to time-lapsed analysis, but most often are used for end point analyses of cellular functions that are measureable with fluorescent probes. For instance, DNA synthesis, apoptosis, acquisition of differentiated states, or production of specific gene products are commonly measured. Briefly, the basic flow of an MEArray experiment is to prepare slides coated with printing substrata and to prepare the master plate of proteins that are to be printed. Then the arrays are printed with a microarray robot, cells are allowed to attach, grow in culture, and then are chemically fixed upon reaching the experimental endpoint. Fluorescent or colorimetric assays, imaged with traditional microscopes or microarray scanners, are used to reveal relevant molecular and cellular phenotypes (Figure 1
Molecular Biology, Issue 68, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Biophysics, Microenvironment, microarray, MEArray, functional cell-based assay, PDMS, cell culture
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
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 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
Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi
) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori
) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
Fabricating Complex Culture Substrates Using Robotic Microcontact Printing (R-µCP) and Sequential Nucleophilic Substitution
Institutions: University of Wisconsin, Madison, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
In tissue engineering, it is desirable to exhibit spatial control of tissue morphology and cell fate in culture on the micron scale. Culture substrates presenting grafted poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) brushes can be used to achieve this task by creating microscale, non-fouling and cell adhesion resistant regions as well as regions where cells participate in biospecific interactions with covalently tethered ligands. To engineer complex tissues using such substrates, it will be necessary to sequentially pattern multiple PEG brushes functionalized to confer differential bioactivities and aligned in microscale orientations that mimic in vivo
niches. Microcontact printing (μCP) is a versatile technique to pattern such grafted PEG brushes, but manual μCP cannot be performed with microscale precision. Thus, we combined advanced robotics with soft-lithography techniques and emerging surface chemistry reactions to develop a robotic microcontact printing (R-μCP)-assisted method for fabricating culture substrates with complex, microscale, and highly ordered patterns of PEG brushes presenting orthogonal ‘click’ chemistries. Here, we describe in detail the workflow to manufacture such substrates.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, Robotic microcontact printing, R-μCP, click chemistry, surface chemistry, tissue engineering, micropattern, advanced manufacturing
In Situ SIMS and IR Spectroscopy of Well-defined Surfaces Prepared by Soft Landing of Mass-selected Ions
Institutions: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Soft landing of mass-selected ions onto surfaces is a powerful approach for the highly-controlled preparation of materials that are inaccessible using conventional synthesis techniques. Coupling soft landing with in situ
characterization using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) and infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy (IRRAS) enables analysis of well-defined surfaces under clean vacuum conditions. The capabilities of three soft-landing instruments constructed in our laboratory are illustrated for the representative system of surface-bound organometallics prepared by soft landing of mass-selected ruthenium tris(bipyridine) dications, [Ru(bpy)3
(bpy = bipyridine), onto carboxylic acid terminated self-assembled monolayer surfaces on gold (COOH-SAMs). In situ
time-of-flight (TOF)-SIMS provides insight into the reactivity of the soft-landed ions. In addition, the kinetics of charge reduction, neutralization and desorption occurring on the COOH-SAM both during and after ion soft landing are studied using in situ
Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR)-SIMS measurements. In situ
IRRAS experiments provide insight into how the structure of organic ligands surrounding metal centers is perturbed through immobilization of organometallic ions on COOH-SAM surfaces by soft landing. Collectively, the three instruments provide complementary information about the chemical composition, reactivity and structure of well-defined species supported on surfaces.
Chemistry, Issue 88, soft landing, mass selected ions, electrospray, secondary ion mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, organometallic, catalysis
A Multi-compartment CNS Neuron-glia Co-culture Microfluidic Platform
Institutions: Texas A&M University (TAMU), Texas A&M University (TAMU).
We present a novel multi-compartment neuron co-culture microsystem platform for in vitro
CNS axon-glia interaction research, capable of conducting up to six independent experiments in parallel for higher-throughput. We developed a new fabrication method to create microfluidic devices having both micro and macro scale structures within the same device through a single soft-lithography process, enabling mass fabrication with good repeatability.
The multi-compartment microfluidic co-culture platform is composed of one soma compartment for neurons and six axon/glia compartments for oligodendrocytes (OLs). The soma compartment and axon/glia compartments are connected by arrays of axon-guiding microchannels that function as physical barriers to confine neuronal soma in the soma compartment, while allowing axons to grow into axon/glia compartments. OLs loaded into axon/glia compartments can interact only with axons but not with neuronal soma or dendrites, enabling localized axon-glia interaction studies. The microchannels also enabled fluidic isolation between compartments, allowing six independent experiments to be conducted on a single device for higher throughput.
Soft-lithography using poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) is a commonly used technique in biomedical microdevices. Reservoirs on these devices are commonly defined by manual punching. Although simple, poor alignment and time consuming nature of the process makes this process not suitable when large numbers of reservoirs have to be repeatedly created. The newly developed method did not require manual punching of reservoirs, overcoming such limitations. First, seven reservoirs (depth: 3.5 mm) were made on a poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) block using a micro-milling machine. Then, arrays of ridge microstructures, fabricated on a glass substrate, were hot-embossed against the PMMA block to define microchannels that connect the soma and axon/glia compartments. This process resulted in macro-scale reservoirs (3.5 mm) and micro-scale channels (2.5 μm) to coincide within a single PMMA master. A PDMS replica that served as a mold master was obtained using soft-lithography and the final PDMS device was replicated from this master.
Primary neurons from E16-18 rats were loaded to the soma compartment and cultured for two weeks. After one week of cell culture, axons crossed microchannels and formed axonal only network layer inside axon/glia compartments. Axons grew uniformly throughout six axon/glia compartments and OLs from P1-2 rats were added to axon/glia compartments at 14 days in vitro
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 31, Neuron culture, neuron-glia interaction, microfluidics, cell culture microsystem
BioMEMS and Cellular Biology: Perspectives and Applications
Institutions: University of Washington.
The ability to culture cells has revolutionized hypothesis testing in basic cell and molecular biology research. It has become a standard methodology in drug screening, toxicology, and clinical assays, and is increasingly used in regenerative medicine. However, the traditional cell culture methodology essentially consisting of the immersion of a large population of cells in a homogeneous fluid medium and on a homogeneous flat substrate has become increasingly limiting both from a fundamental and practical perspective. Microfabrication technologies have enabled researchers to design, with micrometer control, the biochemical composition and topology of the substrate, and the medium composition, as well as the neighboring cell type in the surrounding cellular microenvironment. Additionally, microtechnology is conceptually well-suited for the development of fast, low-cost in vitro systems that allow for high-throughput culturing and analysis of cells under large numbers of conditions. In this interview, Albert Folch explains these limitations, how they can be overcome with soft lithography and microfluidics, and describes some relevant examples of research in his lab and future directions.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 8, BioMEMS, Soft Lithography, Microfluidics, Agrin, Axon Guidance, Olfaction, Interview