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.
23 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
Flexural Rigidity Measurements of Biopolymers Using Gliding Assays
Institutions: Lawrence University.
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.
Biophysics, Issue 69, Bioengineering, Physics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, microtubule, persistence length, flexural rigidity, gliding assay, mechanics, cytoskeleton, actin
Utilization of Plasmonic and Photonic Crystal Nanostructures for Enhanced Micro- and Nanoparticle Manipulation
Institutions: University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center , University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center , Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center .
A method to manipulate the position and orientation of submicron particles nondestructively would be an incredibly useful tool for basic biological research. Perhaps the most widely used physical force to achieve noninvasive manipulation of small particles has been dielectrophoresis(DEP).1
However, DEP on its own lacks the versatility and precision that are desired when manipulating cells since it is traditionally done with stationary electrodes. Optical tweezers, which utilize a three dimensional electromagnetic field gradient to exert forces on small particles, achieve this desired versatility and precision.2
However, a major drawback of this approach is the high radiation intensity required to achieve the necessary force to trap a particle which can damage biological samples.3
A solution that allows trapping and sorting with lower optical intensities are optoelectronic tweezers (OET) but OET's have limitations with fine manipulation of small particles; being DEP-based technology also puts constraint on the property of the solution.4,5
This video article will describe two methods that decrease the intensity of the radiation needed for optical manipulation of living cells and also describe a method for orientation control. The first method is plasmonic tweezers which use a random gold nanoparticle (AuNP) array as a substrate for the sample as shown in Figure 1. The AuNP array converts the incident photons into localized surface plasmons (LSP) which consist of resonant dipole moments that radiate and generate a patterned radiation field with a large gradient in the cell solution. Initial work on surface plasmon enhanced trapping by Righini et al and our own modeling have shown the fields generated by the plasmonic substrate reduce the initial intensity required by enhancing the gradient field that traps the particle.6,7,8
The plasmonic approach allows for fine orientation control of ellipsoidal particles and cells with low optical intensities because of more efficient optical energy conversion into mechanical energy and a dipole-dependent radiation field. These fields are shown in figure 2 and the low trapping intensities are detailed in figures 4 and 5. The main problems with plasmonic tweezers are that the LSP's generate a considerable amount of heat and the trapping is only two dimensional. This heat generates convective flows and thermophoresis which can be powerful enough to expel submicron particles from the trap.9,10
The second approach that we will describe is utilizing periodic dielectric nanostructures to scatter incident light very efficiently into diffraction modes, as shown in figure 6.11
Ideally, one would make this structure out of a dielectric material to avoid the same heating problems experienced with the plasmonic tweezers but in our approach an aluminum-coated diffraction grating is used as a one-dimensional periodic dielectric nanostructure. Although it is not a semiconductor, it did not experience significant heating and effectively trapped small particles with low trapping intensities, as shown in figure 7. Alignment of particles with the grating substrate conceptually validates the proposition that a 2-D photonic crystal could allow precise rotation of non-spherical micron sized particles.10
The efficiencies of these optical traps are increased due to the enhanced fields produced by the nanostructures described in this paper.
Bioengineering, Issue 55, Surface plasmon, optical trapping, optical tweezers, plasmonic trapping, cell manipulation, optical manipulation
Live Cell Imaging of F-actin Dynamics via Fluorescent Speckle Microscopy (FSM)
Institutions: Scripps Institute.
In this protocol we describe the use of Fluorescent Speckle Microscopy (FSM) to capture high-resolution images of actin dynamics in PtK1 cells. A unique advantage of FSM is its ability to capture the movement and turnover kinetics (assembly/disassembly) of the F-actin network within living cells. This technique is particularly useful in deriving quantitative measurements of F-actin dynamics when paired with computer vision software (qFSM). We describe the selection, microinjection and visualization of fluorescent actin probes in living cells. Importantly, similar procedures are applicable to visualizing other macomolecular assemblies. FSM has been demonstrated for microtubules, intermediate filaments, and adhesion complexes.
Cellular Biology, Issue 30, FSM, qFSM, speckle, actin, cytoskeleton, fluorescence, microscopy, microinjection
Bladder Smooth Muscle Strip Contractility as a Method to Evaluate Lower Urinary Tract Pharmacology
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
We describe an in vitro
method to measure bladder smooth muscle contractility, and its use for investigating physiological and pharmacological properties of the smooth muscle as well as changes induced by pathology. This method provides critical information for understanding bladder function while overcoming major methodological difficulties encountered in in vivo
experiments, such as surgical and pharmacological manipulations that affect stability and survival of the preparations, the use of human tissue, and/or the use of expensive chemicals. It also provides a way to investigate the properties of each bladder component (i.e.
smooth muscle, mucosa, nerves) in healthy and pathological conditions.
The urinary bladder is removed from an anesthetized animal, placed in Krebs solution and cut into strips. Strips are placed into a chamber filled with warm Krebs solution. One end is attached to an isometric tension transducer to measure contraction force, the other end is attached to a fixed rod. Tissue is stimulated by directly adding compounds to the bath or by electric field stimulation electrodes that activate nerves, similar to triggering bladder contractions in vivo
. We demonstrate the use of this method to evaluate spontaneous smooth muscle contractility during development and after an experimental spinal cord injury, the nature of neurotransmission (transmitters and receptors involved), factors involved in modulation of smooth muscle activity, the role of individual bladder components, and species and organ differences in response to pharmacological agents. Additionally, it could be used for investigating intracellular pathways involved in contraction and/or relaxation of the smooth muscle, drug structure-activity relationships and evaluation of transmitter release.
The in vitro
smooth muscle contractility method has been used extensively for over 50 years, and has provided data that significantly contributed to our understanding of bladder function as well as to pharmaceutical development of compounds currently used clinically for bladder management.
Medicine, Issue 90, Krebs, species differences, in vitro, smooth muscle contractility, neural stimulation
Ex Vivo Assessment of Contractility, Fatigability and Alternans in Isolated Skeletal Muscles
Institutions: UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Ohio State University .
Described here is a method to measure contractility of isolated skeletal muscles. Parameters such as muscle force, muscle power, contractile kinetics, fatigability, and recovery after fatigue can be obtained to assess specific aspects of the excitation-contraction coupling (ECC) process such as excitability, contractile machinery and Ca2+
handling ability. This method removes the nerve and blood supply and focuses on the isolated skeletal muscle itself. We routinely use this method to identify genetic components that alter the contractile property of skeletal muscle though modulating Ca2+
signaling pathways. Here, we describe a newly identified skeletal muscle phenotype, i.e.
, mechanic alternans, as an example of the various and rich information that can be obtained using the in vitro
muscle contractility assay. Combination of this assay with single cell assays, genetic approaches and biochemistry assays can provide important insights into the mechanisms of ECC in skeletal muscle.
Physiology, Issue 69, extensor digitorum longus, soleus, in vitro contractility, calcium signaling, muscle-tendon complex, mechanic alternans
Isolation and Physiological Analysis of Mouse Cardiomyocytes
Institutions: Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University.
Cardiomyocytes, the workhorse cell of the heart, contain exquisitely organized cytoskeletal and contractile elements that generate the contractile force used to pump blood. Individual cardiomyocytes were first isolated over 40 years ago in order to better study the physiology and structure of heart muscle. Techniques have rapidly improved to include enzymatic digestion via coronary perfusion. More recently, analyzing the contractility and calcium flux of isolated myocytes has provided a vital tool in the cellular and sub-cellular analysis of heart failure. Echocardiography and EKGs provide information about the heart at an organ level only. Cardiomyocyte cell culture systems exist, but cells lack physiologically essential structures such as organized sarcomeres and t-tubules required for myocyte function within the heart. In the protocol presented here, cardiomyocytes are isolated via Langendorff perfusion. The heart is removed from the mouse, mounted via the aorta to a cannula, perfused with digestion enzymes, and cells are introduced to increasing calcium concentrations. Edge and sarcomere detection software is used to analyze contractility, and a calcium binding fluorescent dye is used to visualize calcium transients of electrically paced cardiomyocytes; increasing understanding of the role cellular changes play in heart dysfunction. Traditionally used to test drug effects on cardiomyocytes, we employ this system to compare myocytes from WT mice and mice with a mutation that causes dilated cardiomyopathy. This protocol is unique in its comparison of live cells from mice with known heart function and known genetics. Many experimental conditions are reliably compared, including genetic or environmental manipulation, infection, drug treatment, and more. Beyond physiologic data, isolated cardiomyocytes are easily fixed and stained for cytoskeletal elements. Isolating cardiomyocytes via perfusion is an extremely versatile method, useful in studying cellular changes that accompany or lead to heart failure in a variety of experimental conditions.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, cardiomyocyte isolation, Langendorff, contractility, calcium transients
Isolation, Culture, and Functional Characterization of Adult Mouse Cardiomyoctyes
Institutions: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Sapienza University.
The use of primary cardiomyocytes (CMs) in culture has provided a powerful complement to murine models of heart disease in advancing our understanding of heart disease. In particular, the ability to study ion homeostasis, ion channel function, cellular excitability and excitation-contraction coupling and their alterations in diseased conditions and by disease-causing mutations have led to significant insights into cardiac diseases. Furthermore, the lack of an adequate immortalized cell line to mimic adult CMs, and the limitations of neonatal CMs (which lack many of the structural and functional biomechanics characteristic of adult CMs) in culture have hampered our understanding of the complex interplay between signaling pathways, ion channels and contractile properties in the adult heart strengthening the importance of studying adult isolated cardiomyocytes. Here, we present methods for the isolation, culture, manipulation of gene expression by adenoviral-expressed proteins, and subsequent functional analysis of cardiomyocytes from the adult mouse. The use of these techniques will help to develop mechanistic insight into signaling pathways that regulate cellular excitability, Ca2+
dynamics and contractility and provide a much more physiologically relevant characterization of cardiovascular disease.
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, Medicine, Cardiology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Mice, Ion Channels, Primary Cell Culture, Cardiac Electrophysiology, adult mouse cardiomyocytes, cell isolation, IonOptix, Cell Culture, adenoviral transfection, patch clamp, fluorescent nanosensor
Measurement of Antibody Effects on Cellular Function of Isolated Cardiomyocytes
Institutions: University Medicine Greifswald.
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is one of the main causes for heart failure in younger adults1
. Although genetic disposition and exposition to toxic substances are known causes for this disease in about one third of the patients, the origin of DCM remains largely unclear. In a substantial number of these patients, autoantibodies against cardiac epitopes have been detected and are suspected to play a pivotal role in the onset and progression of the disease2,3
. The importance of cardiac autoantibodies is underlined by a hemodynamic improvement observed in DCM patients after elimination of autoantibodies by immunoadsorption3-5
. A variety of specific antigens have already been identified2,3
and antibodies against these targets may be detected by immunoassays. However, these assays cannot discriminate between stimulating (and therefore functionally effective) and blocking autoantibodies. There is increasing evidence that this distinction is crucial6,7
. It can also be assumed that the targets for a number of cardiotropic antibodies are still unidentified and therefore cannot be detected by immunoassays. Therefore, we established a method for the detection of functionally active cardiotropic antibodies, independent of their respective antigen. The background for the method is the high homology usually observed for functional regions of cardiac proteins in between mammals8,9
. This suggests that cardiac antibodies directed against human antigens will cross-react with non-human target cells, which allows testing of IgG from DCM patients on adult rat cardiomyocytes. Our method consists of 3 steps: first, IgG is isolated from patient plasma using sepharose coupled anti-IgG antibodies obtained from immunoadsorption columns (PlasmaSelect, Teterow, Germany). Second, adult cardiomyocytes are isolated by collagenase perfusion in a Langendorff perfusion apparatus using a protocol modified from previous works10,11
. The obtained cardiomyocytes are attached to laminin-coated chambered coverglasses and stained with Fura-2, a calcium-selective fluorescent dye which can be easily brought into the cell to observe intracellular calcium (Ca2+
. In the last step, the effect of patient IgG on the cell shortening and Ca2+
transients of field stimulated cardiomyocytes is monitored online using a commercial myocyte calcium and contractility monitoring system (IonOptix, Milton, MA, USA) connected to a standard inverse fluorescent microscope.
Immunology, Issue 73, Medicine, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Physiology, Anatomy, Cardiology, cardiomyocytes, cell shortening, intracellular Ca2+, Fura-2, antibodies, dilated cardiomyopathy, DCM, IgG, cardiac proteins, Langendorff perfusion, electrode, immunoassay, assay, cell culture, animal model
Visualizing Neuroblast Cytokinesis During C. elegans Embryogenesis
Institutions: Concordia University.
This protocol describes the use of fluorescence microscopy to image dividing cells within developing Caenorhabditis elegans
embryos. In particular, this protocol focuses on how to image dividing neuroblasts, which are found underneath the epidermal cells and may be important for epidermal morphogenesis. Tissue formation is crucial for metazoan development and relies on external cues from neighboring tissues. C. elegans
is an excellent model organism to study tissue morphogenesis in vivo
due to its transparency and simple organization, making its tissues easy to study via microscopy. Ventral enclosure is the process where the ventral surface of the embryo is covered by a single layer of epithelial cells. This event is thought to be facilitated by the underlying neuroblasts, which provide chemical guidance cues to mediate migration of the overlying epithelial cells. However, the neuroblasts are highly proliferative and also may act as a mechanical substrate for the ventral epidermal cells. Studies using this experimental protocol could uncover the importance of intercellular communication during tissue formation, and could be used to reveal the roles of genes involved in cell division within developing tissues.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, C. elegans, morphogenesis, cytokinesis, neuroblasts, anillin, microscopy, cell division
Analyzing the Movement of the Nauplius 'Artemia salina' by Optical Tracking of Plasmonic Nanoparticles
We demonstrate how optical tweezers may provide a sensitive tool to analyze the fluidic vibrations generated by the movement of small aquatic organisms. A single gold nanoparticle held by an optical tweezer is used as a sensor to quantify the rhythmic motion of a Nauplius larva (Artemia salina
) in a water sample. This is achieved by monitoring the time dependent displacement of the trapped nanoparticle as a consequence of the Nauplius activity. A Fourier analysis of the nanoparticle's position then yields a frequency spectrum that is characteristic to the motion of the observed species. This experiment demonstrates the capability of this method to measure and characterize the activity of small aquatic larvae without the requirement to observe them directly and to gain information about the position of the larvae with respect to the trapped particle. Overall, this approach could give an insight on the vitality of certain species found in an aquatic ecosystem and could expand the range of conventional methods for analyzing water samples.
Biophysics, Issue 89, optical tweezers, particle tracking, plasmonic nanoparticles, Nauplius, bioindicator, water sample analysis
3D Orbital Tracking in a Modified Two-photon Microscope: An Application to the Tracking of Intracellular Vesicles
Institutions: University of California, Irvine.
The objective of this video protocol is to discuss how to perform and analyze a three-dimensional fluorescent orbital particle tracking experiment using a modified two-photon microscope1
. As opposed to conventional approaches (raster scan or wide field based on a stack of frames), the 3D orbital tracking allows to localize and follow with a high spatial (10 nm accuracy) and temporal resolution (50 Hz frequency response) the 3D displacement of a moving fluorescent particle on length-scales of hundreds of microns2
. The method is based on a feedback algorithm that controls the hardware of a two-photon laser scanning microscope in order to perform a circular orbit around the object to be tracked: the feedback mechanism will maintain the fluorescent object in the center by controlling the displacement of the scanning beam3-5
. To demonstrate the advantages of this technique, we followed a fast moving organelle, the lysosome, within a living cell6,7
. Cells were plated according to standard protocols, and stained using a commercially lysosome dye. We discuss briefly the hardware configuration and in more detail the control software, to perform a 3D orbital tracking experiment inside living cells. We discuss in detail the parameters required in order to control the scanning microscope and enable the motion of the beam in a closed orbit around the particle. We conclude by demonstrating how this method can be effectively used to track the fast motion of a labeled lysosome along microtubules in 3D within a live cell. Lysosomes can move with speeds in the range of 0.4-0.5 µm/sec, typically displaying a directed motion along the microtubule network8
Bioengineering, Issue 92, fluorescence, single particle tracking, laser scanning microscope, two-photon, vesicle transport, live-cell imaging, optics
Quantitative and Qualitative Examination of Particle-particle Interactions Using Colloidal Probe Nanoscopy
Institutions: University of Sydney, Dankook University.
Colloidal Probe Nanoscopy (CPN), the study of the nano-scale interactive forces between a specifically prepared colloidal probe and any chosen substrate using the Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), can provide key insights into physical interactions present within colloidal systems. Colloidal systems are widely existent in several applications including, pharmaceuticals, foods, paints, paper, soil and minerals, detergents, printing and much more.1-3
Furthermore, colloids can exist in many states such as emulsions, foams and suspensions. Using colloidal probe nanoscopy one can obtain key information on the adhesive properties, binding energies and even gain insight into the physical stability and coagulation kinetics of the colloids present within. Additionally, colloidal probe nanoscopy can be used with biological cells to aid in drug discovery and formulation development. In this paper we describe a method for conducting colloidal probe nanoscopy, discuss key factors that are important to consider during the measurement, and show that both quantitative and qualitative data that can be obtained from such measurements.
Chemistry, Issue 89,
Colloidal Probe, Nanoscopy, Suspension Stability, Adhesion Mapping, Force, Particle Interaction, Particle Kinetics
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)
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
Measurement of Tension Release During Laser Induced Axon Lesion to Evaluate Axonal Adhesion to the Substrate at Piconewton and Millisecond Resolution
Institutions: National Research Council of Italy, Università di Firenze, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia.
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.
Bioengineering, Issue 75, Biophysics, Neuroscience, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Engineering (General), Life Sciences (General), Physics (General), Axon, tension release, Laser dissector, optical tweezers, force spectroscopy, neurons, neurites, cytoskeleton, adhesion, cell culture, microscopy
From Fast Fluorescence Imaging to Molecular Diffusion Law on Live Cell Membranes in a Commercial Microscope
Institutions: Scuola Normale Superiore, Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia, University of California, Irvine.
It has become increasingly evident that the spatial distribution and the motion of membrane components like lipids and proteins are key factors in the regulation of many cellular functions. However, due to the fast dynamics and the tiny structures involved, a very high spatio-temporal resolution is required to catch the real behavior of molecules. Here we present the experimental protocol for studying the dynamics of fluorescently-labeled plasma-membrane proteins and lipids in live cells with high spatiotemporal resolution. Notably, this approach doesn’t need to track each molecule, but it calculates population behavior using all molecules in a given region of the membrane. The starting point is a fast imaging of a given region on the membrane. Afterwards, a complete spatio-temporal autocorrelation function is calculated correlating acquired images at increasing time delays, for example each 2, 3, n repetitions. It is possible to demonstrate that the width of the peak of the spatial autocorrelation function increases at increasing time delay as a function of particle movement due to diffusion. Therefore, fitting of the series of autocorrelation functions enables to extract the actual protein mean square displacement from imaging (iMSD), here presented in the form of apparent diffusivity vs average displacement. This yields a quantitative view of the average dynamics of single molecules with nanometer accuracy. By using a GFP-tagged variant of the Transferrin Receptor (TfR) and an ATTO488 labeled 1-palmitoyl-2-hydroxy-sn
-glycero-3-phosphoethanolamine (PPE) it is possible to observe the spatiotemporal regulation of protein and lipid diffusion on µm-sized membrane regions in the micro-to-milli-second time range.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, fluorescence, protein dynamics, lipid dynamics, membrane heterogeneity, transient confinement, single molecule, GFP
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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
Live Cell Response to Mechanical Stimulation Studied by Integrated Optical and Atomic Force Microscopy
Institutions: Texas A&M Health Science Center, Texas A&M University.
To understand the mechanism by which living cells sense mechanical forces, and how they respond and adapt to their environment, a new technology able to investigate cells behavior at sub-cellular level with high spatial and temporal resolution was developed. Thus, an atomic force microscope (AFM) was integrated with total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy and fast-spinning disk (FSD) confocal microscopy. The integrated system is broadly applicable across a wide range of molecular dynamic studies in any adherent live cells, allowing direct optical imaging of cell responses to mechanical stimulation in real-time. Significant rearrangement of the actin filaments and focal adhesions was shown due to local mechanical stimulation at the apical cell surface that induced changes into the cellular structure throughout the cell body. These innovative techniques will provide new information for understanding live cell restructuring and dynamics in response to mechanical force. A detailed protocol and a representative data set that show live cell response to mechanical stimulation are presented.
Cellular Biology, Issue 44, live cells, mechanical stimulation, integrated microscopy, atomic force microscopy, spinning-disk confocal, total internal reflection fluorescence
Isolating and Using Sections of Bovine Mesenteric Artery and Vein as a Bioassay to Test for Vasoactivity in the Small Intestine
Institutions: USDA-Agricultural Research Service.
Mammalian gastrointestinal systems are constantly exposed to compounds (desirable and undesirable) that can have an effect on blood flow to and from that system. Changes in blood flow to the small intestine can result in effects on the absorptive functions of the organ. Particular interest in toxins liberated from feedstuffs through fermentative and digestive processes has developed in ruminants as an area where productive efficiencies could be improved. The video associated with this article describes an in vitro
bioassay developed to screen compounds for vasoactivity in isolated cross-sections of bovine mesenteric artery and vein using a multimyograph. Once the blood vessels are mounted and equilibrated in the myograph, the bioassay itself can be used: as a screening tool to evaluate the contractile response or vasoactivity of compounds of interest; determine the presence of receptor types by pharmacologically targeting receptors with specific agonists; determine the role of a receptor with the presence of one or more antagonists; or determine potential interactions of compounds of interest with antagonists. Through all of this, data are collected real-time, tissue collected from a single animal can be exposed to a large number of different experimental treatments (an in vitro
advantage), and represents vasculature on either side of the capillary bed to provide an accurate picture of what could be happening in the afferent and efferent blood supply supporting the small intestine.
Medicine, Issue 92, Blood flow, bovine, mesenteric artery, mesenteric vein, small intestine, vasoactivity, vasoconstriction
Monitoring Actin Disassembly with Time-lapse Microscopy
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Cellular Biology, Issue 1, cytoskeleton, actin, timelapse, filament, chamber