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.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
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
Stretching Micropatterned Cells on a PDMS Membrane
Institutions: Institut Curie.
Mechanical forces exerted on cells and/or tissues play a major role in numerous processes. We have developed a device to stretch cells plated on a PolyDiMethylSiloxane (PDMS) membrane, compatible with imaging. This technique is reproducible and versatile. The PDMS membrane can be micropatterned in order to confine cells or tissues to a specific geometry. The first step is to print micropatterns onto the PDMS membrane with a deep UV technique. The PDMS membrane is then mounted on a mechanical stretcher. A chamber is bound on top of the membrane with biocompatible grease to allow gliding during the stretch. The cells are seeded and allowed to spread for several hours on the micropatterns. The sample can be stretched and unstretched multiple times with the use of a micrometric screw. It takes less than a minute to apply the stretch to its full extent (around 30%). The technique presented here does not include a motorized device, which is necessary for applying repeated stretch cycles quickly and/or computer controlled stretching, but this can be implemented. Stretching of cells or tissue can be of interest for questions related to cell forces, cell response to mechanical stress or tissue morphogenesis. This video presentation will show how to avoid typical problems that might arise when doing this type of seemingly simple experiment.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, micropatterns, stretching, forces, PDMS, microscopy, polarity, mechanical forces
An Experimental System to Study Mechanotransduction in Fetal Lung Cells
Institutions: Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
Mechanical forces generated in utero
by repetitive breathing-like movements and by fluid distension are critical for normal lung development. A key component of lung development is the differentiation of alveolar type II epithelial cells, the major source of pulmonary surfactant. These cells also participate in fluid homeostasis in the alveolar lumen, host defense, and injury repair. In addition, distal lung parenchyma cells can be directly exposed to exaggerated stretch during mechanical ventilation after birth. However, the precise molecular and cellular mechanisms by which lung cells sense mechanical stimuli to influence lung development and to promote lung injury are not completely understood. Here, we provide a simple and high purity method to isolate type II cells and fibroblasts from rodent fetal lungs. Then, we describe an in vitro
system, The Flexcell Strain Unit, to provide mechanical stimulation to fetal cells, simulating mechanical forces in fetal lung development or lung injury. This experimental system provides an excellent tool to investigate molecular and cellular mechanisms in fetal lung cells exposed to stretch. Using this approach, our laboratory has identified several receptors and signaling proteins that participate in mechanotransduction in fetal lung development and lung injury.
Bioengineering, Issue 60, Mechanical stretch, differentiation, lung injury, isolation, fetal, type II epithelial cells, fibroblasts
Induction of Adhesion-dependent Signals Using Low-intensity Ultrasound
Institutions: University of Bristol, Smith and Nephew.
In multicellular organisms, cell behavior is dictated by interactions with the extracellular matrix. Consequences of matrix-engagement range from regulation of cell migration and proliferation, to secretion and even differentiation. The signals underlying each of these complex processes arise from the molecular interactions of extracellular matrix receptors on the surface of the cell. Integrins are the prototypic receptors and provide a mechanical link between extracellular matrix and the cytoskeleton, as well as initiating some of the adhesion-dependent signaling cascades. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that additional transmembrane receptors function alongside the integrins to regulate both the integrin itself and signals downstream. The most elegant of these examples is the transmembrane proteoglycan, syndecan-4, which cooperates with α5
-integrin during adhesion to fibronectin. In vivo
models demonstrate the importance of syndecan-4 signaling, as syndecan-4-knockout mice exhibit healing retardation due to inefficient fibroblast migration1,2
. In wild-type animals, migration of fibroblasts toward a wound is triggered by the appearance of fibronectin that leaks from damaged capillaries and is deposited by macrophages in injured tissue. Therefore there is great interest in discovering strategies that enhance fibronectin-dependent signaling and could accelerate repair processes.
The integrin-mediated and syndecan-4-mediated components of fibronectin-dependent signaling can be separated by stimulating cells with recombinant fibronectin fragments. Although integrin engagement is essential for cell adhesion, certain fibronectin-dependent signals are regulated by syndecan-4. Syndecan-4 activates the Rac1 protrusive signal3
, causes integrin redistribution1
, triggers recruitment of cytoskeletal molecules, such as vinculin, to focal adhesions4
, and thereby induces directional migration3
. We have looked for alternative strategies for activating such signals and found that low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) can mimic the effects of syndecan-4 engagement5
. In this protocol we describe the method by which 30 mW/cm2
, 1.5 MHz ultrasound, pulsed at 1 kHz (Fig. 1
) can be applied to fibroblasts in culture (Fig. 2
) to induce Rac1 activation and focal adhesion formation. Ultrasound stimulation is applied for a maximum of 20 minutes, as this combination of parameters has been found to be most efficacious for acceleration of clinical fracture repair6
. The method uses recombinant fibronectin fragments to engage α5
-integrin, without engagement of syndecan-4, and requires inhibition of protein synthesis by cycloheximide to block deposition of additional matrix by the fibroblasts., The positive effect of ultrasound on repair mechanisms is well documented7,8
, and by understanding the molecular effect of ultrasound in culture we should be able to refine the therapeutic technique to improve clinical outcomes.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 63, Ultrasound, LIPUS, Focal Adhesion, Syndecan-4, Wound Healing, Extracellular Matrix, Rac1, bioengineering
ECM Protein Nanofibers and Nanostructures Engineered Using Surface-initiated Assembly
Institutions: Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Mellon University.
The extracellular matrix (ECM) in tissues is synthesized and assembled by cells to form a 3D fibrillar, protein network with tightly regulated fiber diameter, composition and organization. In addition to providing structural support, the physical and chemical properties of the ECM play an important role in multiple cellular processes including adhesion, differentiation, and apoptosis. In vivo
, the ECM is assembled by exposing cryptic self-assembly (fibrillogenesis) sites within proteins. This process varies for different proteins, but fibronectin (FN) fibrillogenesis is well-characterized and serves as a model system for cell-mediated ECM assembly. Specifically, cells use integrin receptors on the cell membrane to bind FN dimers and actomyosin-generated contractile forces to unfold and expose binding sites for assembly into insoluble fibers. This receptor-mediated process enables cells to assemble and organize the ECM from the cellular to tissue scales. Here, we present a method termed surface-initiated assembly (SIA), which recapitulates cell-mediated matrix assembly using protein-surface interactions to unfold ECM proteins and assemble them into insoluble fibers. First, ECM proteins are adsorbed onto a hydrophobic polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) surface where they partially denature (unfold) and expose cryptic binding domains. The unfolded proteins are then transferred in well-defined micro- and nanopatterns through microcontact printing onto a thermally responsive poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PIPAAm) surface. Thermally-triggered dissolution of the PIPAAm leads to final assembly and release of insoluble ECM protein nanofibers and nanostructures with well-defined geometries. Complex architectures are possible by engineering defined patterns on the PDMS stamps used for microcontact printing. In addition to FN, the SIA process can be used with laminin, fibrinogen and collagens type I and IV to create multi-component ECM nanostructures. Thus, SIA can be used to engineer ECM protein-based materials with precise control over the protein composition, fiber geometry and scaffold architecture in order to recapitulate the structure and composition of the ECM in vivo
Bioengineering, Issue 86, Nanofibers, Nanofabrics, Extracellular Matrix Proteins, Microcontact Printing, Fibronectin, Laminin, Tissue Engineering, poly(N-isopropylacrylamide), Surface-Initiated Assembly
Mechanical Testing of Mouse Carotid Arteries: from Newborn to Adult
Institutions: Saint Louis University.
The large conducting arteries in vertebrates are composed of a specialized extracellular matrix designed to provide pulse dampening and reduce the work performed by the heart. The mix of matrix proteins determines the passive mechanical properties of the arterial wall1
. When the matrix proteins are altered in development, aging, disease or injury, the arterial wall remodels, changing the mechanical properties and leading to subsequent cardiac adaptation2
. In normal development, the remodeling leads to a functional cardiac and cardiovascular system optimized for the needs of the adult organism. In disease, the remodeling often leads to a negative feedback cycle that can cause cardiac failure and death. By quantifying passive arterial mechanical properties in development and disease, we can begin to understand the normal remodeling process to recreate it in tissue engineering and the pathological remodeling process to test disease treatments.
Mice are useful models for studying passive arterial mechanics in development and disease. They have a relatively short lifespan (mature adults by 3 months and aged adults by 2 years), so developmental3
and aging studies4
can be carried out over a limited time course. The advances in mouse genetics provide numerous genotypes and phenotypes to study changes in arterial mechanics with disease progression5
and disease treatment6
. Mice can also be manipulated experimentally to study the effects of changes in hemodynamic parameters on the arterial remodeling process7
. One drawback of the mouse model, especially for examining young ages, is the size of the arteries.
We describe a method for passive mechanical testing of carotid arteries from mice aged 3 days to adult (approximately 90 days). We adapt a commercial myograph system to mount the arteries and perform multiple pressure or axial stretch protocols on each specimen. We discuss suitable protocols for each age, the necessary measurements and provide example data. We also include data analysis strategies for rigorous mechanical characterization of the arteries.
Bioengineering, Issue 60, blood vessel, artery, mechanics, pressure, diameter, postnatal development
Patient-specific Modeling of the Heart: Estimation of Ventricular Fiber Orientations
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
Patient-specific simulations of heart (dys)function aimed at personalizing cardiac therapy are hampered by the absence of in vivo
imaging technology for clinically acquiring myocardial fiber orientations. The objective of this project was to develop a methodology to estimate cardiac fiber orientations from in vivo
images of patient heart geometries. An accurate representation of ventricular geometry and fiber orientations was reconstructed, respectively, from high-resolution ex vivo structural magnetic resonance (MR) and diffusion tensor (DT) MR images of a normal human heart, referred to as the atlas. Ventricular geometry of a patient heart was extracted, via
semiautomatic segmentation, from an in vivo
computed tomography (CT) image. Using image transformation algorithms, the atlas ventricular geometry was deformed to match that of the patient. Finally, the deformation field was applied to the atlas fiber orientations to obtain an estimate of patient fiber orientations. The accuracy of the fiber estimates was assessed using six normal and three failing canine hearts. The mean absolute difference between inclination angles of acquired and estimated fiber orientations was 15.4 °. Computational simulations of ventricular activation maps and pseudo-ECGs in sinus rhythm and ventricular tachycardia indicated that there are no significant differences between estimated and acquired fiber orientations at a clinically observable level.The new insights obtained from the project will pave the way for the development of patient-specific models of the heart that can aid physicians in personalized diagnosis and decisions regarding electrophysiological interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 71, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Cardiology, Myocytes, Cardiac, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI, Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Cardiac Electrophysiology, computerized simulation (general), mathematical modeling (systems analysis), Cardiomyocyte, biomedical image processing, patient-specific modeling, Electrophysiology, simulation
Engineering Fibrin-based Tissue Constructs from Myofibroblasts and Application of Constraints and Strain to Induce Cell and Collagen Reorganization
Institutions: Eindhoven University of Technology.
Collagen content and organization in developing collagenous tissues can be influenced by local tissue strains and tissue constraint. Tissue engineers aim to use these principles to create tissues with predefined collagen architectures. A full understanding of the exact underlying processes of collagen remodeling to control the final tissue architecture, however, is lacking. In particular, little is known about the (re)orientation of collagen fibers in response to changes in tissue mechanical loading conditions. We developed an in vitro
model system, consisting of biaxially-constrained myofibroblast-seeded fibrin constructs, to further elucidate collagen (re)orientation in response to i) reverting biaxial to uniaxial static loading conditions and ii) cyclic uniaxial loading of the biaxially-constrained constructs before and after a change in loading direction, with use of the Flexcell FX4000T loading device. Time-lapse confocal imaging is used to visualize collagen (re)orientation in a nondestructive manner.
Cell and collagen organization in the constructs can be visualized in real-time, and an internal reference system allows us to relocate cells and collagen structures for time-lapse analysis. Various aspects of the model system can be adjusted, like cell source or use of healthy and diseased cells. Additives can be used to further elucidate mechanisms underlying collagen remodeling, by for example adding MMPs or blocking integrins. Shape and size of the construct can be easily adapted to specific needs, resulting in a highly tunable model system to study cell and collagen (re)organization.
Bioengineering, Issue 80, Connective Tissue, Myofibroblasts, Heart Valves, Heart Valve Diseases, Mechanotransduction, Cellular, Adaptation, Biological, Cellular Microenvironment, collagen remodeling, fibrin-based tissues, tissue engineering, cardiovascular
Construction and Characterization of a Novel Vocal Fold Bioreactor
Institutions: University of Delaware, University of Delaware.
engineering of mechanically active tissues requires the presentation of physiologically relevant mechanical conditions to cultured cells. To emulate the dynamic environment of vocal folds, a novel vocal fold bioreactor capable of producing vibratory stimulations at fundamental phonation frequencies is constructed and characterized. The device is composed of a function generator, a power amplifier, a speaker selector and parallel vibration chambers. Individual vibration chambers are created by sandwiching a custom-made silicone membrane between a pair of acrylic blocks. The silicone membrane not only serves as the bottom of the chamber but also provides a mechanism for securing the cell-laden scaffold. Vibration signals, generated by a speaker mounted underneath the bottom acrylic block, are transmitted to the membrane aerodynamically by the oscillating air. Eight identical vibration modules, fixed on two stationary metal bars, are housed in an anti-humidity chamber for long-term operation in a cell culture incubator. The vibration characteristics of the vocal fold bioreactor are analyzed non-destructively using a Laser Doppler Vibrometer (LDV). The utility of the dynamic culture device is demonstrated by culturing cellular constructs in the presence of 200-Hz sinusoidal vibrations with a mid-membrane displacement of 40 µm. Mesenchymal stem cells cultured in the bioreactor respond to the vibratory signals by altering the synthesis and degradation of vocal fold-relevant, extracellular matrix components. The novel bioreactor system presented herein offers an excellent in vitro
platform for studying vibration-induced mechanotransduction and for the engineering of functional vocal fold tissues.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, vocal fold; bioreactor; speaker; silicone membrane; fibrous scaffold; mesenchymal stem cells; vibration; extracellular matrix
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
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
Preparation of Hydroxy-PAAm Hydrogels for Decoupling the Effects of Mechanotransduction Cues
Institutions: Université de Mons.
It is now well established that many cellular functions are regulated by interactions of cells with physicochemical and mechanical cues of their extracellular matrix (ECM) environment. Eukaryotic cells constantly sense their local microenvironment through surface mechanosensors to transduce physical changes of ECM into biochemical signals, and integrate these signals to achieve specific changes in gene expression. Interestingly, physicochemical and mechanical parameters of the ECM can couple with each other to regulate cell fate. Therefore, a key to understanding mechanotransduction is to decouple the relative contribution of ECM cues on cellular functions.
Here we present a detailed experimental protocol to rapidly and easily generate biologically relevant hydrogels for the independent tuning of mechanotransduction cues in vitro
. We chemically modified polyacrylamide hydrogels (PAAm) to surmount their intrinsically non-adhesive properties by incorporating hydroxyl-functionalized acrylamide monomers during the polymerization. We obtained a novel PAAm hydrogel, called hydroxy-PAAm, which permits immobilization of any desired nature of ECM proteins. The combination of hydroxy-PAAm hydrogels with microcontact printing allows to independently control the morphology of single-cells, the matrix stiffness, the nature and the density of ECM proteins. We provide a simple and rapid method that can be set up in every biology lab to study in vitro
cell mechanotransduction processes. We validate this novel two-dimensional platform by conducting experiments on endothelial cells that demonstrate a mechanical coupling between ECM stiffness and the nucleus.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, hydrogels, mechanotransduction, polyacrylamide, microcontact printing, cell shape, stiffness, durotaxis, cell-ligand density
Study of the Actin Cytoskeleton in Live Endothelial Cells Expressing GFP-Actin
Institutions: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
The microvascular endothelium plays an important role as a selectively permeable barrier to fluids and solutes. The adhesive junctions between endothelial cells regulate permeability of the endothelium, and many studies have indicated the important contribution of the actin cytoskeleton to determining junctional integrity1-5
. A cortical actin belt is thought to be important for the maintenance of stable junctions1, 2, 4, 5
. In contrast, actin stress fibers are thought to generate centripetal tension within endothelial cells that weakens junctions2-5
. Much of this theory has been based on studies in which endothelial cells are treated with inflammatory mediators known to increase endothelial permeability, and then fixing the cells and labeling F-actin for microscopic observation. However, these studies provide a very limited understanding of the role of the actin cytoskeleton because images of fixed cells provide only snapshots in time with no information about the dynamics of actin structures5
Live-cell imaging allows incorporation of the dynamic nature of the actin cytoskeleton into the studies of the mechanisms determining endothelial barrier integrity. A major advantage of this method is that the impact of various inflammatory stimuli on actin structures in endothelial cells can be assessed in the same set of living cells before and after treatment, removing potential bias that may occur when observing fixed specimens. Human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) are transfected with a GFP-β-actin plasmid and grown to confluence on glass coverslips. Time-lapse images of GFP-actin in confluent HUVEC are captured before and after the addition of inflammatory mediators that elicit time-dependent changes in endothelial barrier integrity. These studies enable visual observation of the fluid sequence of changes in the actin cytoskeleton that contribute to endothelial barrier disruption and restoration.
Our results consistently show local, actin-rich lamellipodia formation and turnover in endothelial cells. The formation and movement of actin stress fibers can also be observed. An analysis of the frequency of formation and turnover of the local lamellipodia, before and after treatment with inflammatory stimuli can be documented by kymograph analyses. These studies provide important information on the dynamic nature of the actin cytoskeleton in endothelial cells that can used to discover previously unidentified molecular mechanisms important for the maintenance of endothelial barrier integrity.
Cell Biology, Issue 57, Endothelial cells, actin, cytoskeleton, live-cell imaging, GFP, lamellipodia, stress fibers, kymograph analysis
Observing and Quantifying Fibroblast-mediated Fibrin Gel Compaction
Institutions: University of Iowa.
Cells embedded in collagen and fibrin gels attach and exert traction forces on the fibers of the gel. These forces can lead to local and global reorganization and realignment of the gel microstructure. This process proceeds in a complex manner that is dependent in part on the interplay between the location of the cells, the geometry of the gel, and the mechanical constraints on the gel. To better understand how these variables produce global fiber alignment patterns, we use time-lapse differential interference contrast (DIC) microscopy coupled with an environmentally controlled bioreactor to observe the compaction process between geometrically spaced explants (clusters of fibroblasts). The images are then analyzed with a custom image processing algorithm to obtain maps of the strain. The information obtained from this technique can be used to probe the mechanobiology of various cell-matrix interactions, which has important implications for understanding processes in wound healing, disease development, and tissue engineering applications.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, Fibrin, bioreactor, compaction, anisotropy, time-lapse microscopy, mechanobiology
Evaluation of Muscle Function of the Extensor Digitorum Longus Muscle Ex vivo and Tibialis Anterior Muscle In situ in Mice
Institutions: University of Missouri.
Body movements are mainly provided by mechanical function of skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscle is composed of numerous bundles of myofibers that are sheathed by intramuscular connective tissues. Each myofiber contains many myofibrils that run longitudinally along the length of the myofiber. Myofibrils are the contractile apparatus of muscle and they are composed of repeated contractile units known as sarcomeres. A sarcomere unit contains actin and myosin filaments that are spaced by the Z discs and titin protein. Mechanical function of skeletal muscle is defined by the contractile and passive properties of muscle. The contractile properties are used to characterize the amount of force generated during muscle contraction, time of force generation and time of muscle relaxation. Any factor that affects muscle contraction (such as interaction between actin and myosin filaments, homeostasis of calcium, ATP/ADP ratio, etc.) influences the contractile properties. The passive properties refer to the elastic and viscous properties (stiffness and viscosity) of the muscle in the absence of contraction. These properties are determined by the extracellular and the intracellular structural components (such as titin) and connective tissues (mainly collagen) 1-2
. The contractile and passive properties are two inseparable aspects of muscle function. For example, elbow flexion is accomplished by contraction of muscles in the anterior compartment of the upper arm and passive stretch of muscles in the posterior compartment of the upper arm. To truly understand muscle function, both contractile and passive properties should be studied.
The contractile and/or passive mechanical properties of muscle are often compromised in muscle diseases. A good example is Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a severe muscle wasting disease caused by dystrophin deficiency 3
. Dystrophin is a cytoskeletal protein that stabilizes the muscle cell membrane (sarcolemma) during muscle contraction 4
. In the absence of dystrophin, the sarcolemma is damaged by the shearing force generated during force transmission. This membrane tearing initiates a chain reaction which leads to muscle cell death and loss of contractile machinery. As a consequence, muscle force is reduced and dead myofibers are replaced by fibrotic tissues 5
. This later change increases muscle stiffness 6
. Accurate measurement of these changes provides important guide to evaluate disease progression and to determine therapeutic efficacy of novel gene/cell/pharmacological interventions. Here, we present two methods to evaluate both contractile and passive mechanical properties of the extensor digitorum longus (EDL) muscle and the contractile properties of the tibialis anterior (TA) muscle.
Medicine, Issue 72, Immunology, Microbiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Muscle, Skeletal, Neuromuscular Diseases, Drug Therapy, Gene Therapy, Musculoskeletal Diseases, Skeletal Muscle, Tibialis Anterior, Contractile Properties, Passive Properties, EDL, TA, animal model
Identification of Post-translational Modifications of Plant Protein Complexes
Institutions: University of Warwick, Norwich Research Park, The Australian National University.
Plants adapt quickly to changing environments due to elaborate perception and signaling systems. During pathogen attack, plants rapidly respond to infection via
the recruitment and activation of immune complexes. Activation of immune complexes is associated with post-translational modifications (PTMs) of proteins, such as phosphorylation, glycosylation, or ubiquitination. Understanding how these PTMs are choreographed will lead to a better understanding of how resistance is achieved.
Here we describe a protein purification method for nucleotide-binding leucine-rich repeat (NB-LRR)-interacting proteins and the subsequent identification of their post-translational modifications (PTMs). With small modifications, the protocol can be applied for the purification of other plant protein complexes. The method is based on the expression of an epitope-tagged version of the protein of interest, which is subsequently partially purified by immunoprecipitation and subjected to mass spectrometry for identification of interacting proteins and PTMs.
This protocol demonstrates that: i). Dynamic changes in PTMs such as phosphorylation can be detected by mass spectrometry; ii). It is important to have sufficient quantities of the protein of interest, and this can compensate for the lack of purity of the immunoprecipitate; iii). In order to detect PTMs of a protein of interest, this protein has to be immunoprecipitated to get a sufficient quantity of protein.
Plant Biology, Issue 84, plant-microbe interactions, protein complex purification, mass spectrometry, protein phosphorylation, Prf, Pto, AvrPto, AvrPtoB
Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi
) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori
) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
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
Electric Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing for the Quantification of Endothelial Proliferation, Barrier Function, and Motility
Institutions: Institute for Cardiovascular Research, VU University Medical Center, Institute for Cardiovascular Research, VU University Medical Center.
Electric Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing (ECIS) is an in vitro
impedance measuring system to quantify the behavior of cells within adherent cell layers. To this end, cells are grown in special culture chambers on top of opposing, circular gold electrodes. A constant small alternating current is applied between the electrodes and the potential across is measured. The insulating properties of the cell membrane create a resistance towards the electrical current flow resulting in an increased electrical potential between the electrodes. Measuring cellular impedance in this manner allows the automated study of cell attachment, growth, morphology, function, and motility. Although the ECIS measurement itself is straightforward and easy to learn, the underlying theory is complex and selection of the right settings and correct analysis and interpretation of the data is not self-evident. Yet, a clear protocol describing the individual steps from the experimental design to preparation, realization, and analysis of the experiment is not available. In this article the basic measurement principle as well as possible applications, experimental considerations, advantages and limitations of the ECIS system are discussed. A guide is provided for the study of cell attachment, spreading and proliferation; quantification of cell behavior in a confluent layer, with regard to barrier function, cell motility, quality of cell-cell and cell-substrate adhesions; and quantification of wound healing and cellular responses to vasoactive stimuli. Representative results are discussed based on human microvascular (MVEC) and human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC), but are applicable to all adherent growing cells.
Bioengineering, Issue 85, ECIS, Impedance Spectroscopy, Resistance, TEER, Endothelial Barrier, Cell Adhesions, Focal Adhesions, Proliferation, Migration, Motility, Wound Healing
A Novel Method for Localizing Reporter Fluorescent Beads Near the Cell Culture Surface for Traction Force Microscopy
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
PA gels have long been used as a platform to study cell traction forces due to ease of fabrication and the ability to tune their elastic properties. When the substrate is coated with an extracellular matrix protein, cells adhere to the gel and apply forces, causing the gel to deform. The deformation depends on the cell traction and the elastic properties of the gel. If the deformation field of the surface is known, surface traction can be calculated using elasticity theory. Gel deformation is commonly measured by embedding fluorescent marker beads uniformly into the gel. The probes displace as the gel deforms. The probes near the surface of the gel are tracked. The displacements reported by these probes are considered as surface displacements. Their depths from the surface are ignored. This assumption introduces error in traction force evaluations. For precise measurement of cell forces, it is critical for the location of the beads to be known. We have developed a technique that utilizes simple chemistry to confine fluorescent marker beads, 0.1 and 1 µm in diameter, in PA gels, within 1.6 μm of the surface. We coat a coverslip with poly-D-lysine (PDL) and fluorescent beads. PA gel solution is then sandwiched between the coverslip and an adherent surface. The fluorescent beads transfer to the gel solution during curing. After polymerization, the PA gel contains fluorescent beads on a plane close to the gel surface.
Bioengineering, Issue 91, cell mechanics, polyacrylamide (PA) gel, traction force microscopy, fluorescent beads, poly-D-lysine (PDL), cell culture surface
Mechanical Stimulation-induced Calcium Wave Propagation in Cell Monolayers: The Example of Bovine Corneal Endothelial Cells
Institutions: KU Leuven.
Intercellular communication is essential for the coordination of physiological processes between cells in a variety of organs and tissues, including the brain, liver, retina, cochlea and vasculature. In experimental settings, intercellular Ca2+
-waves can be elicited by applying a mechanical stimulus to a single cell. This leads to the release of the intracellular signaling molecules IP3
that initiate the propagation of the Ca2+
-wave concentrically from the mechanically stimulated cell to the neighboring cells. The main molecular pathways that control intercellular Ca2+
-wave propagation are provided by gap junction channels through the direct transfer of IP3
and by hemichannels through the release of ATP. Identification and characterization of the properties and regulation of different connexin and pannexin isoforms as gap junction channels and hemichannels are allowed by the quantification of the spread of the intercellular Ca2+
-wave, siRNA, and the use of inhibitors of gap junction channels and hemichannels. Here, we describe a method to measure intercellular Ca2+
-wave in monolayers of primary corneal endothelial cells loaded with Fluo4-AM in response to a controlled and localized mechanical stimulus provoked by an acute, short-lasting deformation of the cell as a result of touching the cell membrane with a micromanipulator-controlled glass micropipette with a tip diameter of less than 1 μm. We also describe the isolation of primary bovine corneal endothelial cells and its use as model system to assess Cx43-hemichannel activity as the driven force for intercellular Ca2+
-waves through the release of ATP. Finally, we discuss the use, advantages, limitations and alternatives of this method in the context of gap junction channel and hemichannel research.
Cellular Biology, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Immunology, Ophthalmology, Gap Junctions, Connexins, Connexin 43, Calcium Signaling, Ca2+, Cell Communication, Paracrine Communication, Intercellular communication, calcium wave propagation, gap junctions, hemichannels, endothelial cells, cell signaling, cell, isolation, cell culture
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