Microtubules are cytoskeletal polymers which play a role in cell division, cell mechanics, and intracellular transport. Each of these functions requires microtubules that are stiff and straight enough to span a significant fraction of the cell diameter. As a result, the microtubule persistence length, a measure of stiffness, has been actively studied for the past two decades1. Nonetheless, open questions remain: short microtubules are 10-50 times less stiff than long microtubules2-4, and even long microtubules have measured persistence lengths which vary by an order of magnitude5-9.
Here, we present a method to measure microtubule persistence length. The method is based on a kinesin-driven microtubule gliding assay10. By combining sparse fluorescent labeling of individual microtubules with single particle tracking of individual fluorophores attached to the microtubule, the gliding trajectories of single microtubules are tracked with nanometer-level precision. The persistence length of the trajectories is the same as the persistence length of the microtubule under the conditions used11. An automated tracking routine is used to create microtubule trajectories from fluorophores attached to individual microtubules, and the persistence length of this trajectory is calculated using routines written in IDL.
This technique is rapidly implementable, and capable of measuring the persistence length of 100 microtubules in one day of experimentation. The method can be extended to measure persistence length under a variety of conditions, including persistence length as a function of length along microtubules. Moreover, the analysis routines used can be extended to myosin-based acting gliding assays, to measure the persistence length of actin filaments as well.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Stretching Short Sequences of DNA with Constant Force Axial Optical Tweezers
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Michigan .
Single-molecule techniques for stretching DNA of contour lengths less than a kilobase are fraught with experimental difficulties. However, many interesting biological events such as histone binding and protein-mediated looping of DNA1,2
, occur on this length scale. In recent years, the mechanical properties of DNA have been shown to play a significant role in fundamental cellular processes like the packaging of DNA into compact nucleosomes and chromatin fibers3,4
. Clearly, it is then important to understand the mechanical properties of short stretches of DNA. In this paper, we provide a practical guide to a single-molecule optical tweezing technique that we have developed to study the mechanical behavior of DNA with contour lengths as short as a few hundred basepairs.
The major hurdle in stretching short segments of DNA is that conventional optical tweezers are generally designed to apply force in a direction lateral to the stage5,6,
(see Fig. 1). In this geometry, the angle between the bead and the coverslip, to which the DNA is tethered, becomes very steep for submicron length DNA. The axial position must now be accounted for, which can be a challenge, and, since the extension drags the microsphere closer to the coverslip, steric effects are enhanced. Furthermore, as a result of the asymmetry of the microspheres, lateral extensions will generate varying levels of torque due to rotation of the microsphere within the optical trap since the direction of the reactive force changes during the extension.
Alternate methods for stretching submicron DNA run up against their own unique hurdles. For instance, a dual-beam optical trap is limited to stretching DNA of around a wavelength, at which point interference effects between the two traps and from light scattering between the microspheres begin to pose a significant problem. Replacing one of the traps with a micropipette would most likely suffer from similar challenges. While one could directly use the axial potential to stretch the DNA, an active feedback scheme would be needed to apply a constant force and the bandwidth of this will be quite limited, especially at low forces.
We circumvent these fundamental problems by directly pulling the DNA away from the coverslip by using a constant force axial optical tweezers7,8
. This is achieved by trapping the bead in a linear region of the optical potential, where the optical force is constant-the strength of which can be tuned by adjusting the laser power. Trapping within the linear region also serves as an all optical force-clamp on the DNA that extends for nearly 350 nm in the axial direction. We simultaneously compensate for thermal and mechanical drift by finely adjusting the position of the stage so that a reference microsphere stuck to the coverslip remains at the same position and focus, allowing for a virtually limitless observation period.
Bioengineering, Issue 56, Genetics, DNA stretching, DNA, Axial Optical Tweezers, Single-Molecule Biophysics, Biophysics
Electrospinning Fibrous Polymer Scaffolds for Tissue Engineering and Cell Culture
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania .
As the field of tissue engineering evolves, there is a tremendous demand to produce more suitable materials and processing techniques in order to address the requirements (e.g., mechanics and vascularity) of more intricate organs and tissues. Electrospinning is a popular technique to create fibrous scaffolds that mimic the architecture and size scale of the native extracellular matrix. These fibrous scaffolds are also useful as cell culture substrates since the fibers can be used to direct cellular behavior, including stem cell differentiation (see extensive reviews by Mauck et al.
and Sill et al.
for more information). In this article, we describe the general process of electrospinning polymers and as an example, electrospin a reactive hyaluronic acid capable of crosslinking with light exposure (see Ifkovits et al.
for a review on photocrosslinkable materials). We also introduce further processing capabilities such as photopatterning and multi-polymer scaffold formation. Photopatterning can be used to create scaffolds with channels and multi-scale porosity to increase cellular infiltration and tissue distribution. Multi-polymer scaffolds are useful to better tune the properties (mechanics and degradation) of a scaffold, including tailored porosity for cellular infiltration. Furthermore, these techniques can be extended to include a wide array of polymers and reactive macromers to create complex scaffolds that provide the cues necessary for the development of successful tissue engineered constructs.
Cellular Biology, Issue 32, Electrospinning, Photocrosslinking, Photopatterning, Tissue Engineering, Scaffolds, Biomaterials, Bioengineering
Manufacturing of Three-dimensionally Microstructured Nanocomposites through Microfluidic Infiltration
Institutions: École Polytechnique de Montréal.
Microstructured composite beams reinforced with complex three-dimensionally (3D) patterned nanocomposite microfilaments are fabricated via nanocomposite inﬁltration of 3D interconnected microfluidic networks. The manufacturing of the reinforced beams begins with the fabrication of microfluidic networks, which involves layer-by-layer deposition of fugitive ink filaments using a dispensing robot, filling the empty space between filaments using a low viscosity resin, curing the resin and finally removing the ink. Self-supported 3D structures with other geometries and many layers (e.g.
a few hundreds layers) could be built using this method. The resulting tubular microﬂuidic networks are then infiltrated with thermosetting nanocomposite suspensions containing nanofillers (e.g.
single-walled carbon nanotubes), and subsequently cured. The infiltration is done by applying a pressure gradient between two ends of the empty network (either by applying a vacuum or vacuum-assisted microinjection). Prior to the infiltration, the nanocomposite suspensions are prepared by dispersing nanofillers into polymer matrices using ultrasonication and three-roll mixing methods. The nanocomposites (i.e.
materials infiltrated) are then solidified under UV exposure/heat cure, resulting in a 3D-reinforced composite structure. The technique presented here enables the design of functional nanocomposite macroscopic products for microengineering applications such as actuators and sensors.
Chemistry, Issue 85, Microstructures, Nanocomposites, 3D-patterning, Infiltration, Direct-write assembly, Microfluidic networks
Formulations for Freeze-drying of Bacteria and Their Influence on Cell Survival
Institutions: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala University.
Cellular water can be removed to reversibly inactivate microorganisms to facilitate storage. One such method of removal is freeze-drying, which is considered a gentle dehydration method. To facilitate cell survival during drying, the cells are often formulated beforehand. The formulation forms a matrix that embeds the cells and protects them from various harmful stresses imposed on the cells during freezing and drying. We present here a general method to evaluate the survival rate of cells after freeze-drying and we illustrate it by comparing the results obtained with four different formulations: the disaccharide sucrose, the sucrose derived polymer Ficoll PM400, and the respective polysaccharides hydroxyethyl cellulose (HEC) and hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose (HPMC), on two strains of bacteria, P. putida
KT2440 and A. chlorophenolicus
A6. In this work we illustrate how to prepare formulations for freeze-drying and how to investigate the mechanisms of cell survival after rehydration by characterizing the formulation using of differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), surface tension measurements, X-ray analysis, and electron microscopy and relating those data to survival rates. The polymers were chosen to get a monomeric structure of the respective polysaccharide resembling sucrose to a varying degrees. Using this method setup we showed that polymers can support cell survival as effectively as disaccharides if certain physical properties of the formulation are controlled1
Microbiology, Issue 78, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Biophysics, Basic Protocols, Cell survival, sucrose, polysaccharides, cellulose, Ficoll, freeze-drying, Pseudomonas putida, Arthrobacter chlorophenolicus, cells, cell culture
Biophysical Assays to Probe the Mechanical Properties of the Interphase Cell Nucleus: Substrate Strain Application and Microneedle Manipulation
Institutions: Department of Medicine, Cardiovascular Division, Cornell University.
In most eukaryotic cells, the nucleus is the largest organelle and is typically 2 to 10 times stiffer than the surrounding cytoskeleton; consequently, the physical properties of the nucleus contribute significantly to the overall biomechanical behavior of cells under physiological and pathological conditions. For example, in migrating neutrophils and invading cancer cells, nuclear stiffness can pose a major obstacle during extravasation or passage through narrow spaces within tissues.1
On the other hand, the nucleus of cells in mechanically active tissue such as muscle requires sufficient structural support to withstand repetitive mechanical stress. Importantly, the nucleus is tightly integrated into the cellular architecture; it is physically connected to the surrounding cytoskeleton, which is a critical requirement for the intracellular movement and positioning of the nucleus, for example, in polarized cells, synaptic nuclei at neuromuscular junctions, or in migrating cells.2
Not surprisingly, mutations in nuclear envelope proteins such as lamins and nesprins, which play a critical role in determining nuclear stiffness and nucleo-cytoskeletal coupling, have been shown recently to result in a number of human diseases, including Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy, limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, and dilated cardiomyopathy.3
To investigate the biophysical function of diverse nuclear envelope proteins and the effect of specific mutations, we have developed experimental methods to study the physical properties of the nucleus in single, living cells subjected to global or localized mechanical perturbation. Measuring induced nuclear deformations in response to precisely applied substrate strain application yields important information on the deformability of the nucleus and allows quantitative comparison between different mutations or cell lines deficient for specific nuclear envelope proteins. Localized cytoskeletal strain application with a microneedle is used to complement this assay and can yield additional information on intracellular force transmission between the nucleus and the cytoskeleton. Studying nuclear mechanics in intact living cells preserves the normal intracellular architecture and avoids potential artifacts that can arise when working with isolated nuclei. Furthermore, substrate strain application presents a good model for the physiological stress experienced by cells in muscle or other tissues (e.g., vascular smooth muscle cells exposed to vessel strain). Lastly, while these tools have been developed primarily to study nuclear mechanics, they can also be applied to investigate the function of cytoskeletal proteins and mechanotransduction signaling.
Biophysics, Issue 55, nuclear envelope, nuclear stiffness, nucleo-cytoskeletal coupling, lamin, nesprin, cytoskeleton, biomechanics, nuclear deformation, force transmission
Nanomechanics of Drug-target Interactions and Antibacterial Resistance Detection
Institutions: University College London.
The cantilever sensor, which acts as a transducer of reactions between model bacterial cell wall matrix immobilized on its surface and antibiotic drugs in solution, has shown considerable potential in biochemical sensing applications with unprecedented sensitivity and specificity1-5
. The drug-target interactions generate surface stress, causing the cantilever to bend, and the signal can be analyzed optically when it is illuminated by a laser. The change in surface stress measured with nano-scale precision allows disruptions of the biomechanics of model bacterial cell wall targets to be tracked in real time. Despite offering considerable advantages, multiple cantilever sensor arrays have never been applied in quantifying drug-target binding interactions.
Here, we report on the use of silicon multiple cantilever arrays coated with alkanethiol self-assembled monolayers mimicking bacterial cell wall matrix to quantitatively study antibiotic binding interactions. To understand the impact of vancomycin on the mechanics of bacterial cell wall structures1,6,7
. We developed a new model1
which proposes that cantilever bending can be described by two independent factors; i) namely a chemical factor, which is given by a classical Langmuir adsorption isotherm, from which we calculate the thermodynamic equilibrium dissociation constant (Kd
) and ii) a geometrical factor, essentially a measure of how bacterial peptide receptors are distributed on the cantilever surface. The surface distribution of peptide receptors (p
) is used to investigate the dependence of geometry and ligand loading. It is shown that a threshold value of p ~
10% is critical to sensing applications. Below which there is no detectable bending signal while above this value, the bending signal increases almost linearly, revealing that stress is a product of a local chemical binding factor and a geometrical factor combined by the mechanical connectivity of reacted regions and provides a new paradigm for design of powerful agents to combat superbug infections.
Immunology, Issue 80, Engineering, Technology, Diagnostic Techniques and Procedures, Early Diagnosis, Bacterial Infections and Mycoses, Lipids, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, Chemical Actions and Uses, Diagnosis, Therapeutics, Surface stress, vancomycin, mucopeptides, cantilever sensor
Protocol for Relative Hydrodynamic Assessment of Tri-leaflet Polymer Valves
Institutions: Florida International University, University of Florida , University of Florida , Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Limitations of currently available prosthetic valves, xenografts, and homografts have prompted a recent resurgence of developments in the area of tri-leaflet polymer valve prostheses. However, identification of a protocol for initial assessment of polymer valve hydrodynamic functionality is paramount during the early stages of the design process. Traditional in vitro
pulse duplicator systems are not configured to accommodate flexible tri-leaflet materials; in addition, assessment of polymer valve functionality needs to be made in a relative context to native and prosthetic heart valves under identical test conditions so that variability in measurements from different instruments can be avoided. Accordingly, we conducted hydrodynamic assessment of i) native (n = 4, mean diameter, D = 20 mm), ii) bi-leaflet mechanical (n= 2, D = 23 mm) and iii) polymer valves (n = 5, D = 22 mm) via the use of a commercially available pulse duplicator system (ViVitro Labs Inc, Victoria, BC) that was modified to accommodate tri-leaflet valve geometries. Tri-leaflet silicone valves developed at the University of Florida comprised the polymer valve group. A mixture in the ratio of 35:65 glycerin to water was used to mimic blood physical properties. Instantaneous flow rate was measured at the interface of the left ventricle and aortic units while pressure was recorded at the ventricular and aortic positions. Bi-leaflet and native valve data from the literature was used to validate flow and pressure readings. The following hydrodynamic metrics were reported: forward flow pressure drop, aortic root mean square forward flow rate, aortic closing, leakage and regurgitant volume, transaortic closing, leakage, and total energy losses. Representative results indicated that hydrodynamic metrics from the three valve groups could be successfully obtained by incorporating a custom-built assembly into a commercially available pulse duplicator system and subsequently, objectively compared to provide insights on functional aspects of polymer valve design.
Bioengineering, Issue 80, Cardiovascular Diseases, Circulatory and Respiratory Physiological Phenomena, Fluid Mechanics and Thermodynamics, Mechanical Engineering, valve disease, valve replacement, polymer valves, pulse duplicator, modification, tri-leaflet geometries, hydrodynamic studies, relative assessment, medicine, bioengineering, physiology
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
Experimental Measurement of Settling Velocity of Spherical Particles in Unconfined and Confined Surfactant-based Shear Thinning Viscoelastic Fluids
Institutions: The University of Texas at Austin.
An experimental study is performed to measure the terminal settling velocities of spherical particles in surfactant based shear thinning viscoelastic (VES) fluids. The measurements are made for particles settling in unbounded fluids and fluids between parallel walls. VES fluids over a wide range of rheological properties are prepared and rheologically characterized. The rheological characterization involves steady shear-viscosity and dynamic oscillatory-shear measurements to quantify the viscous and elastic properties respectively. The settling velocities under unbounded conditions are measured in beakers having diameters at least 25x the diameter of particles. For measuring settling velocities between parallel walls, two experimental cells with different wall spacing are constructed. Spherical particles of varying sizes are gently dropped in the fluids and allowed to settle. The process is recorded with a high resolution video camera and the trajectory of the particle is recorded using image analysis software. Terminal settling velocities are calculated from the data.
The impact of elasticity on settling velocity in unbounded fluids is quantified by comparing the experimental settling velocity to the settling velocity calculated by the inelastic drag predictions of Renaud et al.1
Results show that elasticity of fluids can increase or decrease the settling velocity. The magnitude of reduction/increase is a function of the rheological properties of the fluids and properties of particles. Confining walls are observed to cause a retardation effect on settling and the retardation is measured in terms of wall factors.
Physics, Issue 83, chemical engineering, settling velocity, Reynolds number, shear thinning, wall retardation
Systematic Analysis of In Vitro Cell Rolling Using a Multi-well Plate Microfluidic System
Institutions: Brigham and Women's Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard University, Harvard University, Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A major challenge for cell-based therapy is the inability to systemically target a large quantity of viable cells with high efficiency to tissues of interest following intravenous or intraarterial infusion. Consequently, increasing cell homing is currently studied as a strategy to improve cell therapy. Cell rolling on the vascular endothelium is an important step in the process of cell homing and can be probed in-vitro
using a parallel plate flow chamber (PPFC). However, this is an extremely tedious, low throughput assay, with poorly controlled flow conditions. Instead, we used a multi-well plate microfluidic system that enables study of cellular rolling properties in a higher throughput under precisely controlled, physiologically relevant shear flow1,2
. In this paper, we show how the rolling properties of HL-60 (human promyelocytic leukemia) cells on P- and E-selectin-coated surfaces as well as on cell monolayer-coated surfaces can be readily examined. To better simulate inflammatory conditions, the microfluidic channel surface was coated with endothelial cells (ECs), which were then activated with tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), significantly increasing interactions with HL-60 cells under dynamic conditions. The enhanced throughput and integrated multi-parameter software analysis platform, that permits rapid analysis of parameters such as rolling velocities and rolling path, are important advantages for assessing cell rolling properties in-vitro
. Allowing rapid and accurate analysis of engineering approaches designed to impact cell rolling and homing, this platform may help advance exogenous cell-based therapy.
Bioengineering, Issue 80, Microfluidics, Endothelial Cells, Leukocyte Rolling, HL-60 cells, TNF-α, P-selectin, E-selectin
Shape Memory Polymers for Active Cell Culture
Institutions: Syracuse Biomaterials Institute.
Shape memory polymers (SMPs) are a class of "smart" materials that have the ability to change from a fixed, temporary shape to a pre-determined permanent shape upon the application of a stimulus such as heat1-5
. In a typical shape memory cycle, the SMP is first deformed at an elevated temperature that is higher than its transition temperature, Ttrans
[either the melting temperature (Tm
) or the glass transition temperature (Tg
)]. The deformation is elastic in nature and mainly leads to a reduction in conformational entropy of the constituent network chains (following the rubber elasticity theory). The deformed SMP is then cooled to a temperature below its Ttrans
while maintaining the external strain or stress constant. During cooling, the material transitions to a more rigid state (semi-crystalline or glassy), which kinetically traps or "freezes" the material in this low-entropy state leading to macroscopic shape fixing. Shape recovery is triggered by continuously heating the material through Ttrans
under a stress-free (unconstrained) condition. By allowing the network chains (with regained mobility) to relax to their thermodynamically favored, maximal-entropy state, the material changes from the temporary shape to the permanent shape.
Cells are capable of surveying the mechanical properties of their surrounding environment6
. The mechanisms through which mechanical interactions between cells and their physical environment control cell behavior are areas of active research. Substrates of defined topography have emerged as powerful tools in the investigation of these mechanisms. Mesoscale, microscale, and nanoscale patterns of substrate topography have been shown to direct cell alignment, cell adhesion, and cell traction forces7-14
. These findings have underscored the potential for substrate topography to control and assay the mechanical interactions between cells and their physical environment during cell culture, but the substrates used to date have generally been passive and could not be programmed to change significantly during culture. This physical stasis has limited the potential of topographic substrates to control cells in culture.
Here, active cell culture (ACC) SMP substrates are introduced that employ surface shape memory to provide programmed control of substrate topography and deformation. These substrates demonstrate the ability to transition from a temporary grooved topography to a second, nearly flat memorized topography. This change in topography can be used to control cell behavior under standard cell culture conditions.
Bioengineering, Issue 53, Shape Memory Polymer, Mechanobiology, Tissue Engineering, Cell Culture, Cell Biomechanics
Investigating Outer Hair Cell Motility with a Combination of External Alternating Electrical Field Stimulation and High-speed Image Analysis
Institutions: House Ear Institute.
OHCs are cylindrical sensorimotor cells located in the Organ of Corti, the auditory organ inside the mammalian inner ear. The name "hair cells" derives from their characteristic apical bundle of stereocilia, a critical element for detection and transduction of sound energy 1
. OHCs are able to change shape —elongate, shorten and bend— in response to electrical, mechanical and chemical stimulation, a motor response considered crucial for cochlear amplification of acoustic signals 2
OHC stimulation induces two different motile responses: i) electromotility, a.k.a fast motility, changes in length in the microsecond range derived from electrically-driven conformational changes in motor proteins densely packed in OHC plasma membrane, and ii) slow motility, shape changes in the millisecond to seconds range involving cytoskeletal reorganization 2, 3
. OHC bending is associated with electromotility, and result either from an asymmetric distribution of motor proteins in the lateral plasma membrane, or asymmetric electrical stimulation of those motor proteins (e.g., with an electrical field perpendicular to the long axis of the cells) 4
. Mechanical and chemical stimuli induce essentially slow motile responses, even though changes in the ionic conditions of the cells and/or their environment can also stimulate the plasma membrane-embedded motor proteins 5, 6
. Since OHC motile responses are an essential component of the cochlear amplifier, the qualitative and quantitative analysis of these motile responses at acoustic frequencies (roughly from 20 Hz to 20 kHz in humans) is a very important matter in the field of hearing research 7
The development of new imaging technology combining high-speed videocameras, LED-based illumination systems, and sophisticated image analysis software now provides the ability to perform reliable qualitative and quantitative studies of the motile response of isolated OHCs to an external alternating electrical field (EAEF) 8
. This is a simple and non-invasive technique that circumvents most of the limitations of previous approaches 9-11
. Moreover, the LED-based illumination system provides extreme brightness with insignificant thermal effects on the samples and, because of the use of video microscopy, optical resolution is at least 10-fold higher than with conventional light microscopy techniques 12
. For instance, with the experimental setup described here, changes in cell length of about 20 nm can be routinely and reliably detected at frequencies of 10 kHz, and this resolution can be further improved at lower frequencies.
We are confident that this experimental approach will help to extend our understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying OHC motility.
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Outer Hair Cell, Electromotility, Slow Motility, External Alternating Electrical Field, High-speed Imaging Analysis, Cochlea
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
Studying DNA Looping by Single-Molecule FRET
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology.
Bending of double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) is associated with many important biological processes such as DNA-protein recognition and DNA packaging into nucleosomes. Thermodynamics of dsDNA bending has been studied by a method called cyclization which relies on DNA ligase to covalently join short sticky ends of a dsDNA. However, ligation efficiency can be affected by many factors that are not related to dsDNA looping such as the DNA structure surrounding the joined sticky ends, and ligase can also affect the apparent looping rate through mechanisms such as nonspecific binding. Here, we show how to measure dsDNA looping kinetics without ligase by detecting transient DNA loop formation by FRET (Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer). dsDNA molecules are constructed using a simple PCR-based protocol with a FRET pair and a biotin linker. The looping probability density known as the J factor is extracted from the looping rate and the annealing rate between two disconnected sticky ends. By testing two dsDNAs with different intrinsic curvatures, we show that the J factor is sensitive to the intrinsic shape of the dsDNA.
Molecular Biology, Issue 88, DNA looping, J factor, Single molecule, FRET, Gel mobility shift, DNA curvature, Worm-like chain
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
Confocal Imaging of Confined Quiescent and Flowing Colloid-polymer Mixtures
Institutions: University of Houston.
The behavior of confined colloidal suspensions with attractive interparticle interactions is critical to the rational design of materials for directed assembly1-3
, drug delivery4
, improved hydrocarbon recovery5-7
, and flowable electrodes for energy storage8
. Suspensions containing fluorescent colloids and non-adsorbing polymers are appealing model systems, as the ratio of the polymer radius of gyration to the particle radius and concentration of polymer control the range and strength of the interparticle attraction, respectively. By tuning the polymer properties and the volume fraction of the colloids, colloid fluids, fluids of clusters, gels, crystals, and glasses can be obtained9
. Confocal microscopy, a variant of fluorescence microscopy, allows an optically transparent and fluorescent sample to be imaged with high spatial and temporal resolution in three dimensions. In this technique, a small pinhole or slit blocks the emitted fluorescent light from regions of the sample that are outside the focal volume of the microscope optical system. As a result, only a thin section of the sample in the focal plane is imaged. This technique is particularly well suited to probe the structure and dynamics in dense colloidal suspensions at the single-particle scale: the particles are large enough to be resolved using visible light and diffuse slowly enough to be captured at typical scan speeds of commercial confocal systems10
. Improvements in scan speeds and analysis algorithms have also enabled quantitative confocal imaging of flowing suspensions11-16,37
. In this paper, we demonstrate confocal microscopy experiments to probe the confined phase behavior and flow properties of colloid-polymer mixtures. We first prepare colloid-polymer mixtures that are density- and refractive-index matched. Next, we report a standard protocol for imaging quiescent dense colloid-polymer mixtures under varying confinement in thin wedge-shaped cells. Finally, we demonstrate a protocol for imaging colloid-polymer mixtures during microchannel flow.
Chemistry, Issue 87, confocal microscopy, particle tracking, colloids, suspensions, confinement, gelation, microfluidics, image correlation, dynamics, suspension flow
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
Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
Institutions: Russian Academy of Sciences, Federal Research Center of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology, Moscow, Russia, University of Pennsylvania.
Microtubule depolymerization can provide force to transport different protein complexes and protein-coated beads in vitro
. The underlying mechanisms are thought to play a vital role in the microtubule-dependent chromosome motions during cell division, but the relevant proteins and their exact roles are ill-defined. Thus, there is a growing need to develop assays with which to study such motility in vitro
using purified components and defined biochemical milieu. Microtubules, however, are inherently unstable polymers; their switching between growth and shortening is stochastic and difficult to control. The protocols we describe here take advantage of the segmented microtubules that are made with the photoablatable stabilizing caps. Depolymerization of such segmented microtubules can be triggered with high temporal and spatial resolution, thereby assisting studies of motility at the disassembling microtubule ends. This technique can be used to carry out a quantitative analysis of the number of molecules in the fluorescently-labeled protein complexes, which move processively with dynamic microtubule ends. To optimize a signal-to-noise ratio in this and other quantitative fluorescent assays, coverslips should be treated to reduce nonspecific absorption of soluble fluorescently-labeled proteins. Detailed protocols are provided to take into account the unevenness of fluorescent illumination, and determine the intensity of a single fluorophore using equidistant Gaussian fit. Finally, we describe the use of segmented microtubules to study microtubule-dependent motions of the protein-coated microbeads, providing insights into the ability of different motor and nonmotor proteins to couple microtubule depolymerization to processive cargo motion.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, microscopy flow chamber, single-molecule fluorescence, laser trap, microtubule-binding protein, microtubule-dependent motor, microtubule tip-tracking
Towards Biomimicking Wood: Fabricated Free-standing Films of Nanocellulose, Lignin, and a Synthetic Polycation
Institutions: Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech, Illinois Institute of Technology- Moffett Campus, University of Guadalajara, Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech.
Woody materials are comprised of plant cell walls that contain a layered secondary cell wall composed of structural polymers of polysaccharides and lignin. Layer-by-layer (LbL) assembly process which relies on the assembly of oppositely charged molecules from aqueous solutions was used to build a freestanding composite film of isolated wood polymers of lignin and oxidized nanofibril cellulose (NFC). To facilitate the assembly of these negatively charged polymers, a positively charged polyelectrolyte, poly(diallyldimethylammomium chloride) (PDDA), was used as a linking layer to create this simplified model cell wall. The layered adsorption process was studied quantitatively using quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation monitoring (QCM-D) and ellipsometry. The results showed that layer mass/thickness per adsorbed layer increased as a function of total number of layers. The surface coverage of the adsorbed layers was studied with atomic force microscopy (AFM). Complete coverage of the surface with lignin in all the deposition cycles was found for the system, however, surface coverage by NFC increased with the number of layers. The adsorption process was carried out for 250 cycles (500 bilayers) on a cellulose acetate (CA) substrate. Transparent free-standing LBL assembled nanocomposite films were obtained when the CA substrate was later dissolved in acetone. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of the fractured cross-sections showed a lamellar structure, and the thickness per adsorption cycle (PDDA-Lignin-PDDA-NC) was estimated to be 17 nm for two different lignin types used in the study. The data indicates a film with highly controlled architecture where nanocellulose and lignin are spatially deposited on the nanoscale (a polymer-polymer nanocomposites), similar to what is observed in the native cell wall.
Plant Biology, Issue 88, nanocellulose, thin films, quartz crystal microbalance, layer-by-layer, LbL
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
FtsZ Polymerization Assays: Simple Protocols and Considerations
Institutions: University of Groningen.
During bacterial cell division, the essential protein FtsZ assembles in the middle of the cell to form the so-called Z-ring. FtsZ polymerizes into long filaments in the presence of GTP in vitro
, and polymerization is regulated by several accessory proteins. FtsZ polymerization has been extensively studied in vitro
using basic methods including light scattering, sedimentation, GTP hydrolysis assays and electron microscopy. Buffer conditions influence both the polymerization properties of FtsZ, and the ability of FtsZ to interact with regulatory proteins. Here, we describe protocols for FtsZ polymerization studies and validate conditions and controls using Escherichia coli
and Bacillus subtilis
FtsZ as model proteins. A low speed sedimentation assay is introduced that allows the study of the interaction of FtsZ with proteins that bundle or tubulate FtsZ polymers. An improved GTPase assay protocol is described that allows testing of GTP hydrolysis over time using various conditions in a 96-well plate setup, with standardized incubation times that abolish variation in color development in the phosphate detection reaction. The preparation of samples for light scattering studies and electron microscopy is described. Several buffers are used to establish suitable buffer pH and salt concentration for FtsZ polymerization studies. A high concentration of KCl is the best for most of the experiments. Our methods provide a starting point for the in vitro
characterization of FtsZ, not only from E. coli
and B. subtilis
but from any other bacterium. As such, the methods can be used for studies of the interaction of FtsZ with regulatory proteins or the testing of antibacterial drugs which may affect FtsZ polymerization.
Basic Protocols, Issue 81, FtsZ, protein polymerization, cell division, GTPase, sedimentation assay, light scattering
Environmentally-controlled Microtensile Testing of Mechanically-adaptive Polymer Nanocomposites for ex vivo Characterization
Institutions: Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Case Western Reserve University, Case Western Reserve University.
Implantable microdevices are gaining significant attention for several biomedical applications1-4
. Such devices have been made from a range of materials, each offering its own advantages and shortcomings5,6
. Most prominently, due to the microscale device dimensions, a high modulus is required to facilitate implantation into living tissue. Conversely, the stiffness of the device should match the surrounding tissue to minimize induced local strain7-9
. Therefore, we recently developed a new class of bio-inspired materials to meet these requirements by responding to environmental stimuli with a change in mechanical properties10-14
. Specifically, our poly(vinyl acetate)-based nanocomposite (PVAc-NC) displays a reduction in stiffness when exposed to water and elevated temperatures (e.g.
body temperature). Unfortunately, few methods exist to quantify the stiffness of materials in vivo15
, and mechanical testing outside of the physiological environment often requires large samples inappropriate for implantation. Further, stimuli-responsive materials may quickly recover their initial stiffness after explantation. Therefore, we have developed a method by which the mechanical properties of implanted microsamples can be measured ex vivo
, with simulated physiological conditions maintained using moisture and temperature control13,16,17
To this end, a custom microtensile tester was designed to accommodate microscale samples13,17
with widely-varying Young's moduli (range of 10 MPa to 5 GPa). As our interests are in the application of PVAc-NC as a biologically-adaptable neural probe substrate, a tool capable of mechanical characterization of samples at the microscale was necessary. This tool was adapted to provide humidity and temperature control, which minimized sample drying and cooling17
. As a result, the mechanical characteristics of the explanted sample closely reflect those of the sample just prior to explantation.
The overall goal of this method is to quantitatively assess the in vivo
mechanical properties, specifically the Young's modulus, of stimuli-responsive, mechanically-adaptive polymer-based materials. This is accomplished by first establishing the environmental conditions that will minimize a change in sample mechanical properties after explantation without contributing to a reduction in stiffness independent of that resulting from implantation. Samples are then prepared for implantation, handling, and testing (Figure 1A
). Each sample is implanted into the cerebral cortex of rats, which is represented here as an explanted rat brain, for a specified duration (Figure 1B
). At this point, the sample is explanted and immediately loaded into the microtensile tester, and then subjected to tensile testing (Figure 1C
). Subsequent data analysis provides insight into the mechanical behavior of these innovative materials in the environment of the cerebral cortex.
Bioengineering, Issue 78, Biophysics, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Electrical Engineering, Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Nanocomposites, Electrodes, Implanted, Neural Prostheses, Micro-Electrical-Mechanical Systems, Implants, Experimental, mechanical properties (composite materials), Dynamic materials, polymer nanocomposite, Young's modulus, modulus of elasticity, intracortical microelectrode, polymers, biomaterials
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