The formation of functional connections in a developing neuronal network is influenced by extrinsic cues. The neurite growth of developing neurons is subject to chemical and mechanical signals, and the mechanisms by which it senses and responds to mechanical signals are poorly understood. Elucidating the role of forces in cell maturation will enable the design of scaffolds that can promote cell adhesion and cytoskeletal coupling to the substrate, and therefore improve the capacity of different neuronal types to regenerate after injury.
Here, we describe a method to apply simultaneous force spectroscopy measurements during laser induced cell lesion. We measure tension release in the partially lesioned axon by simultaneous interferometric tracking of an optically trapped probe adhered to the membrane of the axon. Our experimental protocol detects the tension release with piconewton sensitivity, and the dynamic of the tension release at millisecond time resolution. Therefore, it offers a high-resolution method to study how the mechanical coupling between cells and substrates can be modulated by pharmacological treatment and/or by distinct mechanical properties of the substrate.
19 Related JoVE Articles!
Micropipette Aspiration of Substrate-attached Cells to Estimate Cell Stiffness
Institutions: University of Illinois, University of Pennsylvania .
Growing number of studies show that biomechanical properties of individual cells play major roles in multiple cellular functions, including cell proliferation, differentiation, migration and cell-cell interactions. The two key parameters of cellular biomechanics are cellular deformability or stiffness and the ability of the cells to contract and generate force. Here we describe a quick and simple method to estimate cell stiffness by measuring the degree of membrane deformation in response to negative pressure applied by a glass micropipette to the cell surface, a technique that is called Micropipette Aspiration or Microaspiration.
Microaspiration is performed by pulling a glass capillary to create a micropipette with a very small tip (2-50 μm diameter depending on the size of a cell or a tissue sample), which is then connected to a pneumatic pressure transducer and brought to a close vicinity of a cell under a microscope. When the tip of the pipette touches a cell, a step of negative pressure is applied to the pipette by the pneumatic pressure transducer generating well-defined pressure on the cell membrane. In response to pressure, the membrane is aspirated into the pipette and progressive membrane deformation or "membrane projection" into the pipette is measured as a function of time. The basic principle of this experimental approach is that the degree of membrane deformation in response to a defined mechanical force is a function of membrane stiffness. The stiffer the membrane is, the slower the rate of membrane deformation and the shorter the steady-state aspiration length.The technique can be performed on isolated cells, both in suspension and substrate-attached, large organelles, and liposomes.
Analysis is performed by comparing maximal membrane deformations achieved under a given pressure for different cell populations or experimental conditions. A "stiffness coefficient" is estimated by plotting the aspirated length of membrane deformation as a function of the applied pressure. Furthermore, the data can be further analyzed to estimate the Young's modulus of the cells (E), the most common parameter to characterize stiffness of materials. It is important to note that plasma membranes of eukaryotic cells can be viewed as a bi-component system where membrane lipid bilayer is underlied by the sub-membrane cytoskeleton and that it is the cytoskeleton that constitutes the mechanical scaffold of the membrane and dominates the deformability of the cellular envelope. This approach, therefore, allows probing the biomechanical properties of the sub-membrane cytoskeleton.
Bioengineering, Issue 67, Biophysics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Cellular Biology, Cell stiffness, biomechanics, microaspiration, cell membrane, cytoskeleton
Electrochemotherapy of Tumours
Institutions: Institute of Oncology Ljubljana, University of Ljubljana.
Electrochemotherapy is a combined use of certain chemotherapeutic drugs and electric pulses applied to the treated tumour nodule. Local application of electric pulses to the tumour increases drug delivery into cells, specifically at the site of electric pulse application. Drug uptake by delivery of electric pulses is increased for only those chemotherapeutic drugs whose transport through the plasma membrane is impeded. Among many drugs that have been tested so far, bleomycin and cisplatin found their way from preclinical testing to clinical use. Clinical data collected within a number of clinical studies indicate that approximately 80% of the treated cutaneous and subcutaneous tumour nodules of different malignancies are in an objective response, from these, approximately 70% in complete response after a single application of electrochemotherapy. Usually only one treatment is needed, however, electrochemotherapy can be repeated several times every few weeks with equal effectiveness each time. The treatment results in an effective eradication of the treated nodules, with a good cosmetic effect without tissue scarring.
Medicine, Issue 22, electrochemotherapy, electroporation, cisplatin, bleomycin, malignant tumours, cutaneous lesions
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
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
Nanomanipulation of Single RNA Molecules by Optical Tweezers
Institutions: University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York.
A large portion of the human genome is transcribed but not translated. In this post genomic era, regulatory functions of RNA have been shown to be increasingly important. As RNA function often depends on its ability to adopt alternative structures, it is difficult to predict RNA three-dimensional structures directly from sequence. Single-molecule approaches show potentials to solve the problem of RNA structural polymorphism by monitoring molecular structures one molecule at a time. This work presents a method to precisely manipulate the folding and structure of single RNA molecules using optical tweezers. First, methods to synthesize molecules suitable for single-molecule mechanical work are described. Next, various calibration procedures to ensure the proper operations of the optical tweezers are discussed. Next, various experiments are explained. To demonstrate the utility of the technique, results of mechanically unfolding RNA hairpins and a single RNA kissing complex are used as evidence. In these examples, the nanomanipulation technique was used to study folding of each structural domain, including secondary and tertiary, independently. Lastly, the limitations and future applications of the method are discussed.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, RNA folding, single-molecule, optical tweezers, nanomanipulation, RNA secondary structure, RNA tertiary structure
Adjustable Stiffness, External Fixator for the Rat Femur Osteotomy and Segmental Bone Defect Models
Institutions: Queensland University of Technology, RISystem AG.
The mechanical environment around the healing of broken bone is very important as it determines the way the fracture will heal. Over the past decade there has been great clinical interest in improving bone healing by altering the mechanical environment through the fixation stability around the lesion. One constraint of preclinical animal research in this area is the lack of experimental control over the local mechanical environment within a large segmental defect as well as osteotomies as they heal. In this paper we report on the design and use of an external fixator to study the healing of large segmental bone defects or osteotomies. This device not only allows for controlled axial stiffness on the bone lesion as it heals, but it also enables the change of stiffness during the healing process in vivo.
The conducted experiments have shown that the fixators were able to maintain a 5 mm femoral defect gap in rats in vivo
during unrestricted cage activity for at least 8 weeks. Likewise, we observed no distortion or infections, including pin infections during the entire healing period. These results demonstrate that our newly developed external fixator was able to achieve reproducible and standardized stabilization, and the alteration of the mechanical environment of in vivo
rat large bone defects and various size osteotomies. This confirms that the external fixation device is well suited for preclinical research investigations using a rat model in the field of bone regeneration and repair.
Medicine, Issue 92, external fixator, bone healing, small animal model, large bone defect and osteotomy model, rat model, mechanical environment, mechanobiology.
Chemotherapy-induced Vascular Toxicity - Real-time In vivo Imaging of Vessel Impairment
Institutions: Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv University, Davidoff Center and Rabin Medical Center, Tel Aviv University.
Certain classes of chemotherapies may exert acute vascular changes that may progress into long-term conditions that may predispose the patient to an increased risk of vascular morbidity. Yet, albeit the mounting clinical evidence, there is a paucity of clear studies of vascular toxicity and therefore the etiology of a heterogeneous group of vascular/cardiovascular disorders remains to be elucidated. Moreover, the mechanism that may underlie vascular toxicity can completely differ from the principles of chemotherapy-induced cardiotoxicity, which is related to direct myocyte injury. We have established a real-time, in vivo
molecular imaging platform to evaluate the potential acute vascular toxicity of anti-cancer therapies.
We have set up a platform of in vivo
, high-resolution molecular imaging in mice, suitable for visualizing vasculature within confined organs and reference blood vessels within the same individuals whereas each individual serve as its own control. Blood vessel walls were impaired after doxorubicin administration, representing a unique mechanism of vascular toxicity that may be the early event in end-organ injury. Herein, the method of fibered confocal fluorescent microscopy (FCFM) based imaging is described, which provides an innovative mode to understand physiological phenomena at the cellular and sub-cellular levels in animal subjects.
Medicine, Issue 95, in-vivo imaging, fibered confocal endoscopic microscopy, real-time imaging, high-resolution animal imaging, vascular imaging, vascular impairment
Atomic Force Microscopy of Red-Light Photoreceptors Using PeakForce Quantitative Nanomechanical Property Mapping
Institutions: Northeastern Illinois University, Northeastern Illinois University.
Atomic force microscopy (AFM) uses a pyramidal tip attached to a cantilever to probe the force response of a surface. The deflections of the tip can be measured to ~10 pN by a laser and sectored detector, which can be converted to image topography. Amplitude modulation or “tapping mode” AFM involves the probe making intermittent contact with the surface while oscillating at its resonant frequency to produce an image. Used in conjunction with a fluid cell, tapping-mode AFM enables the imaging of biological macromolecules such as proteins in physiologically relevant conditions. Tapping-mode AFM requires manual tuning of the probe and frequent adjustments of a multitude of scanning parameters which can be challenging for inexperienced users. To obtain high-quality images, these adjustments are the most time consuming.
PeakForce Quantitative Nanomechanical Property Mapping (PF-QNM) produces an image by measuring a force response curve for every point of contact with the sample. With ScanAsyst software, PF-QNM can be automated. This software adjusts the set-point, drive frequency, scan rate, gains, and other important scanning parameters automatically for a given sample. Not only does this process protect both fragile probes and samples, it significantly reduces the time required to obtain high resolution images. PF-QNM is compatible for AFM imaging in fluid; therefore, it has extensive application for imaging biologically relevant materials.
The method presented in this paper describes the application of PF-QNM to obtain images of a bacterial red-light photoreceptor, RpBphP3 (P3), from photosynthetic R. palustris
in its light-adapted state. Using this method, individual protein dimers of P3 and aggregates of dimers have been observed on a mica surface in the presence of an imaging buffer. With appropriate adjustments to surface and/or solution concentration, this method may be generally applied to other biologically relevant macromolecules and soft materials.
Physics, Issue 92, atomic force microscopy, protein, photoreceptor, surface chemistry, nanoscience, soft materials, macromolecules, AFM
Measuring Ascending Aortic Stiffness In Vivo in Mice Using Ultrasound
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins University, Macquarie University.
We present a protocol for measuring in vivo
aortic stiffness in mice using high-resolution ultrasound imaging. Aortic diameter is measured by ultrasound and aortic blood pressure is measured invasively with a solid-state pressure catheter. Blood pressure is raised then lowered incrementally by intravenous infusion of vasoactive drugs phenylephrine and sodium nitroprusside. Aortic diameter is measured for each pressure step to characterize the pressure-diameter relationship of the ascending aorta. Stiffness indices derived from the pressure-diameter relationship can be calculated from the data collected. Calculation of arterial compliance is described in this protocol.
This technique can be used to investigate mechanisms underlying increased aortic stiffness associated with cardiovascular disease and aging. The technique produces a physiologically relevant measure of stiffness compared to ex vivo
approaches because physiological influences on aortic stiffness are incorporated in the measurement. The primary limitation of this technique is the measurement error introduced from the movement of the aorta during the cardiac cycle. This motion can be compensated by adjusting the location of the probe with the aortic movement as well as making multiple measurements of the aortic pressure-diameter relationship and expanding the experimental group size.
Medicine, Issue 94, Aortic stiffness, ultrasound, in vivo, aortic compliance, elastic modulus, mouse model, cardiovascular disease
Combining Single-molecule Manipulation and Imaging for the Study of Protein-DNA Interactions
Institutions: University of Florence, University of Oxford, University of Florence, University of Florence, National Institute of Optics-National Research Council, Italy, International Center of Computational Neurophotonics.
The paper describes the combination of optical tweezers and single molecule fluorescence detection for the study of protein-DNA interaction. The method offers the opportunity of investigating interactions occurring in solution (thus avoiding problems due to closeby surfaces as in other single molecule methods), controlling the DNA extension and tracking interaction dynamics as a function of both mechanical parameters and DNA sequence. The methods for establishing successful optical trapping and nanometer localization of single molecules are illustrated. We illustrate the experimental conditions allowing the study of interaction of lactose repressor (lacI), labeled with Atto532, with a DNA molecule containing specific target sequences (operators) for LacI binding. The method allows the observation of specific interactions at the operators, as well as one-dimensional diffusion of the protein during the process of target search. The method is broadly applicable to the study of protein-DNA interactions but also to molecular motors, where control of the tension applied to the partner track polymer (for example actin or microtubules) is desirable.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, Single molecule biophysics, Optical tweezers, fluorescence microscopy, DNA binding proteins, lactose repressor, microfluidics
Longitudinal Measurement of Extracellular Matrix Rigidity in 3D Tumor Models Using Particle-tracking Microrheology
Institutions: University of Massachusetts Boston.
The mechanical microenvironment has been shown to act as a crucial regulator of tumor growth behavior and signaling, which is itself remodeled and modified as part of a set of complex, two-way mechanosensitive interactions. While the development of biologically-relevant 3D tumor models have facilitated mechanistic studies on the impact of matrix rheology on tumor growth, the inverse problem of mapping changes in the mechanical environment induced by tumors remains challenging. Here, we describe the implementation of particle-tracking microrheology (PTM) in conjunction with 3D models of pancreatic cancer as part of a robust and viable approach for longitudinally monitoring physical changes in the tumor microenvironment, in situ
. The methodology described here integrates a system of preparing in vitro
3D models embedded in a model extracellular matrix (ECM) scaffold of Type I collagen with fluorescently labeled probes uniformly distributed for position- and time-dependent microrheology measurements throughout the specimen. In vitro
tumors are plated and probed in parallel conditions using multiwell imaging plates. Drawing on established methods, videos of tracer probe movements are transformed via the Generalized Stokes Einstein Relation (GSER) to report the complex frequency-dependent viscoelastic shear modulus, G*(ω)
. Because this approach is imaging-based, mechanical characterization is also mapped onto large transmitted-light spatial fields to simultaneously report qualitative changes in 3D tumor size and phenotype. Representative results showing contrasting mechanical response in sub-regions associated with localized invasion-induced matrix degradation as well as system calibration, validation data are presented. Undesirable outcomes from common experimental errors and troubleshooting of these issues are also presented. The 96-well 3D culture plating format implemented in this protocol is conducive to correlation of microrheology measurements with therapeutic screening assays or molecular imaging to gain new insights into impact of treatments or biochemical stimuli on the mechanical microenvironment.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, viscoelasticity, mechanobiology, extracellular matrix (ECM), matrix remodeling, 3D tumor models, tumor microenvironment, stroma, matrix metalloprotease (MMP), epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT)
Remote Magnetic Actuation of Micrometric Probes for in situ 3D Mapping of Bacterial Biofilm Physical Properties
Institutions: Sorbonne Universités, UPMC, Institut Pasteur, Sorbonne Universités, UPMC.
Bacterial adhesion and growth on interfaces lead to the formation of three-dimensional heterogeneous structures so-called biofilms. The cells dwelling in these structures are held together by physical interactions mediated by a network of extracellular polymeric substances. Bacterial biofilms impact many human activities and the understanding of their properties is crucial for a better control of their development — maintenance or eradication — depending on their adverse or beneficial outcome. This paper describes a novel methodology aiming to measure in situ
the local physical properties of the biofilm that had been, until now, examined only from a macroscopic and homogeneous material perspective. The experiment described here involves introducing magnetic particles into a growing biofilm to seed local probes that can be remotely actuated without disturbing the structural properties of the biofilm. Dedicated magnetic tweezers were developed to exert a defined force on each particle embedded in the biofilm. The setup is mounted on the stage of a microscope to enable the recording of time-lapse images of the particle-pulling period. The particle trajectories are then extracted from the pulling sequence and the local viscoelastic parameters are derived from each particle displacement curve, thereby providing the 3D-spatial distribution of the parameters. Gaining insights into the biofilm mechanical profile is essential from an engineer's point of view for biofilm control purposes but also from a fundamental perspective to clarify the relationship between the architectural properties and the specific biology of these structures.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, Bacterial biofilm, magnetic tweezers, visco-elastic parameters, spatial distribution, flow cell, extracellular matrix
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
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
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
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
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
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
Simple Polyacrylamide-based Multiwell Stiffness Assay for the Study of Stiffness-dependent Cell Responses
Institutions: Saint Louis University.
Currently, most of the in vitro
cell research is performed on rigid tissue culture polystyrene (~1 GPa), while most cells in the body are attached to a matrix that is elastic and much softer (0.1 – 100 kPa). Since such stiffness mismatch greatly affects cell responses, there is a strong interest in developing hydrogel materials that span a wide range of stiffness to serve as cell substrates. Polyacrylamide gels, which are inexpensive and cover the stiffness range of all soft tissues in the body, are the hydrogel of choice for many research groups. However, polyacrylamide gel preparation is lengthy, tedious, and only suitable for small batches. Here, we describe an assay which by utilizing a permanent flexible plastic film as a structural support for the gels, enables the preparation of polyacrylamide gels in a multiwell plate format. The technique is faster, more efficient, and less costly than current methods and permits the preparation of gels of custom sizes not otherwise available. As it doesn’t require any specialized equipment, the method could be easily adopted by any research laboratory and would be particularly useful in research focused on understanding stiffness-dependent cell responses.
Bioengineering, Issue 97, Multiwell, substrate stiffness, drug screening, polyacrylamide, Young’s modulus, high-throughput