Natural polymers over the years have gained more importance because of their host biocompatibility and ability to interact with cells in vitro and in vivo. An area of research that holds promise in regenerative medicine is the combinatorial use of novel biomaterials and stem cells. A fundamental strategy in the field of tissue engineering is the use of three-dimensional scaffold (e.g., decellularized extracellular matrix, hydrogels, micro/nano particles) for directing cell function. This technology has evolved from the discovery that cells need a substrate upon which they can adhere, proliferate, and express their differentiated cellular phenotype and function 2-3. More recently, it has also been determined that cells not only use these substrates for adherence, but also interact and take cues from the matrix substrate (e.g., extracellular matrix, ECM)4. Therefore, the cells and scaffolds have a reciprocal connection that serves to control tissue development, organization, and ultimate function. Adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs) are mesenchymal, non-hematopoetic stem cells present in adipose tissue that can exhibit multi-lineage differentiation and serve as a readily available source of cells (i.e. pre-vascular endothelia and pericytes). Our hypothesis is that adipose-derived stem cells can be directed toward differing phenotypes simultaneously by simply co-culturing them in bilayered matrices1. Our laboratory is focused on dermal wound healing. To this end, we created a single composite matrix from the natural biomaterials, fibrin, collagen, and chitosan that can mimic the characteristics and functions of a dermal-specific wound healing ECM environment.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Studying the Effects of Matrix Stiffness on Cellular Function using Acrylamide-based Hydrogels
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania .
Tissue stiffness is an important determinant of cellular function, and changes in tissue stiffness are commonly associated with fibrosis, cancer and cardiovascular disease1-11
. Traditional cell biological approaches to studying cellular function involve culturing cells on a rigid substratum (plastic dishes or glass coverslips) which cannot account for the effect of an elastic ECM or the variations in ECM stiffness between tissues. To model in vivo
tissue compliance conditions in vitro
, we and others use ECM-coated hydrogels. In our laboratory, the hydrogels are based on polyacrylamide which can mimic the range of tissue compliances seen biologically12
. "Reactive" cover slips are generated by incubation with NaOH followed by addition of 3-APTMS. Glutaraldehyde is used to cross-link the 3-APTMS and the polyacrylamide gel. A solution of acrylamide (AC), bis-acrylamide (Bis-AC) and ammonium persulfate is used for the polymerization of the hydrogel. N-hydroxysuccinimide (NHS) is incorporated into the AC solution to crosslink ECM protein to the hydrogel. Following polymerization of the hydrogel, the gel surface is coated with an ECM protein of choice such as fibronectin, vitronectin, collagen, etc.
The stiffness of a hydrogel can be determined by rheology or atomic force microscopy (AFM) and adjusted by varying the percentage of AC and/or bis-AC in the solution12
. In this manner, substratum stiffness can be matched to the stiffness of biological tissues which can also be quantified using rheology or AFM. Cells can then be seeded on these hydrogels and cultured based upon the experimental conditions required. Imaging of the cells and their recovery for molecular analysis is straightforward. For this article, we define soft substrata as those having elastic moduli (E) <3000 Pascal and stiff substrata/tissues as those with E >20,000 Pascal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 42, substrata stiffness, polyacrylamide, hydrogel, synthetic matrix, extracellular matrix, ECM
Mechanical Stimulation of Chondrocyte-agarose Hydrogels
Institutions: Queen's University , Queen's University .
Articular cartilage suffers from a limited repair capacity when damaged by mechanical insult or degraded by disease, such as osteoarthritis. To remedy this deficiency, several medical interventions have been developed. One such method is to resurface the damaged area with tissue-engineered cartilage; however, the engineered tissue typically lacks the biochemical properties and durability of native cartilage, questioning its long-term survivability. This limits the application of cartilage tissue engineering to the repair of small focal defects, relying on the surrounding tissue to protect the implanted material. To improve the properties of the developed tissue, mechanical stimulation is a popular method utilized to enhance the synthesis of cartilaginous extracellular matrix as well as the resultant mechanical properties of the engineered tissue. Mechanical stimulation applies forces to the tissue constructs analogous to those experienced in vivo
. This is based on the premise that the mechanical environment, in part, regulates the development and maintenance of native tissue1,2
. The most commonly applied form of mechanical stimulation in cartilage tissue engineering is dynamic compression at physiologic strains of approximately 5-20% at a frequency of 1 Hz1,3
. Several studies have investigated the effects of dynamic compression and have shown it to have a positive effect on chondrocyte metabolism and biosynthesis, ultimately affecting the functional properties of the developed tissue4-8
. In this paper, we illustrate the method to mechanically stimulate chondrocyte-agarose hydrogel constructs under dynamic compression and analyze changes in biosynthesis through biochemical and radioisotope assays. This method can also be readily modified to assess any potentially induced changes in cellular response as a result of mechanical stimuli.
Cellular Biology, Issue 68, Tissue Engineering, Mechanical Stimulation, Chondrocytes, Agarose, Cartilage
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
Preparation of 3D Fibrin Scaffolds for Stem Cell Culture Applications
Institutions: University of Victoria , University of Victoria .
Stem cells are found in naturally occurring 3D microenvironments in vivo
, which are often referred to as the stem cell niche 1
. Culturing stem cells inside of 3D biomaterial scaffolds provides a way to accurately mimic these microenvironments, providing an advantage over traditional 2D culture methods using polystyrene as well as a method for engineering replacement tissues 2
. While 2D tissue culture polystrene has been used for the majority of cell culture experiments, 3D biomaterial scaffolds can more closely replicate the microenvironments found in vivo
by enabling more accurate establishment of cell polarity in the environment and possessing biochemical and mechanical properties similar to soft tissue.3
A variety of naturally derived and synthetic biomaterial scaffolds have been investigated as 3D environments for supporting stem cell growth. While synthetic scaffolds can be synthesized to have a greater range of mechanical and chemical properties and often have greater reproducibility, natural biomaterials are often composed of proteins and polysaccharides found in the extracelluar matrix and as a result contain binding sites for cell adhesion and readily support cell culture. Fibrin scaffolds, produced by polymerizing the protein fibrinogen obtained from plasma, have been widely investigated for a variety of tissue engineering applications both in vitro
and in vivo 4
. Such scaffolds can be modified using a variety of methods to incorporate controlled release systems for delivering therapeutic factors 5
. Previous work has shown that such scaffolds can be used to successfully culture embryonic stem cells and this scaffold-based culture system can be used to screen the effects of various growth factors on the differentiation of the stem cells seeded inside 6,7
This protocol details the process of polymerizing fibrin scaffolds from fibrinogen solutions using the enzymatic activity of thrombin. The process takes 2 days to complete, including an overnight dialysis step for the fibrinogen solution to remove citrates that inhibit polymerization. These detailed methods rely on fibrinogen concentrations determined to be optimal for embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cell culture. Other groups have further investigated fibrin scaffolds for a wide range of cell types and applications - demonstrating the versatility of this approach 8-12
Bioengineering, Issue 61, Extracellular matrix, stem cells, biomaterials, drug delivery, cell culture
Vascular Gene Transfer from Metallic Stent Surfaces Using Adenoviral Vectors Tethered through Hydrolysable Cross-linkers
Institutions: The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania.
In-stent restenosis presents a major complication of stent-based revascularization procedures widely used to re-establish blood flow through critically narrowed segments of coronary and peripheral arteries. Endovascular stents capable of tunable release of genes with anti-restenotic activity may present an alternative strategy to presently used drug-eluting stents. In order to attain clinical translation, gene-eluting stents must exhibit predictable kinetics of stent-immobilized gene vector release and site-specific transduction of vasculature, while avoiding an excessive inflammatory response typically associated with the polymer coatings used for physical entrapment of the vector. This paper describes a detailed methodology for coatless tethering of adenoviral gene vectors to stents based on a reversible binding of the adenoviral particles to polyallylamine bisphosphonate (PABT)-modified stainless steel surface via hydrolysable cross-linkers (HC). A family of bifunctional (amine- and thiol-reactive) HC with an average t1/2
of the in-chain ester hydrolysis ranging between 5 and 50 days were used to link the vector with the stent. The vector immobilization procedure is typically carried out within 9 hr and consists of several steps: 1) incubation of the metal samples in an aqueous solution of PABT (4 hr); 2) deprotection of thiol groups installed in PABT with tris(2-carboxyethyl) phosphine (20 min); 3) expansion of thiol reactive capacity of the metal surface by reacting the samples with polyethyleneimine derivatized with pyridyldithio (PDT) groups (2 hr); 4) conversion of PDT groups to thiols with dithiothreitol (10 min); 5) modification of adenoviruses with HC (1 hr); 6) purification of modified adenoviral particles by size-exclusion column chromatography (15 min) and 7) immobilization of thiol-reactive adenoviral particles on the thiolated steel surface (1 hr). This technique has wide potential applicability beyond stents, by facilitating surface engineering of bioprosthetic devices to enhance their biocompatibility through the substrate-mediated gene delivery to the cells interfacing the implanted foreign material.
Medicine, Issue 90, gene therapy, bioconjugation, adenoviral vectors, stents, local gene delivery, smooth muscle cells, endothelial cells, bioluminescence imaging
Encapsulation of Cardiomyocytes in a Fibrin Hydrogel for Cardiac Tissue Engineering
Institutions: Tufts University.
Culturing cells in a three dimensional hydrogel environment is an important technique for developing constructs for tissue engineering as well as studying cellular responses under various culture conditions in vitro. The three dimensional environment more closely mimics what the cells observe in vivo due to the application of mechanical and chemical stimuli in all dimensions 1
. Three-dimensional hydrogels can either be made from synthetic polymers such as PEG-DA 2
and PLGA 3
or a number of naturally occurring proteins such as collagen 4
, hyaluronic acid 5
or fibrin 6,7
. Hydrogels created from fibrin, a naturally occurring blood clotting protein, can polymerize to form a mesh that is part of the body's natural wound healing processes 8
. Fibrin is cell-degradable and potentially autologous 9
, making it an ideal temporary scaffold for tissue engineering.
Here we describe in detail the isolation of neonatal cardiomyocytes from three day old rat pups and the preparation of the cells for encapsulation in fibrin hydrogel constructs for tissue engineering. Neonatal myocytes are a common cell source used for in vitro studies in cardiac tissue formation and engineering 4
. Fibrin gel is created by mixing fibrinogen with the enzyme thrombin. Thrombin cleaves fibrinopeptides FpA and FpB from fibrinogen, revealing binding sites that interact with other monomers 10
. These interactions cause the monomers to self-assemble into fibers that form the hydrogel mesh. Because the timing of this enzymatic reaction can be adjusted by altering the ratio of thrombin to fibrinogen, or the ratio of calcium to thrombin, one can injection mold constructs with a number of different geometries 11,12
. Further we can generate alignment of the resulting tissue by how we constrain the gel during culture 13
After culturing the engineered cardiac tissue constructs for two weeks under static conditions, the cardiac cells have begun to remodel the construct and can generate a contraction force under electrical pacing conditions 6
. As part of this protocol, we also describe methods for analyzing the tissue engineered myocardium after the culture period including functional analysis of the active force generated by the cardiac muscle construct upon electrical stimulation, as well as methods for determining final cell viability (Live-Dead assay) and immunohistological staining to examine the expression and morphology of typical proteins important for contraction (Myosin Heavy Chain or MHC) and cellular coupling (Connexin 43 or Cx43) between myocytes.
Bioengineering, Issue 55, fibrin, scaffold, hydrogel, cardiac tissue engineering, contraction force, neonatal cardiomyocytes
Promotion of Survival and Differentiation of Neural Stem Cells with Fibrin and Growth Factor Cocktails after Severe Spinal Cord Injury
Institutions: Veterans Administration Medical Center, San Diego, University of California, San Diego.
Neural stem cells (NSCs) can self-renew and differentiate into neurons and glia. Transplanted NSCs can replace lost neurons and glia after spinal cord injury (SCI), and can form functional relays to re-connect spinal cord segments above and below a lesion. Previous studies grafting neural stem cells have been limited by incomplete graft survival within the spinal cord lesion cavity. Further, tracking of graft cell survival, differentiation, and process extension had not been optimized. Finally, in previous studies, cultured rat NSCs were typically reported to differentiate into glia when grafted to the injured spinal cord, rather than neurons, unless fate was driven to a specific cell type. To address these issues, we developed new methods to improve the survival, integration and differentiation of NSCs to sites of even severe SCI. NSCs were freshly isolated from embryonic day 14 spinal cord (E14) from a stable transgenic Fischer 344 rat line expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) and were embedded into a fibrin matrix containing growth factors; this formulation aimed to retain grafted cells in the lesion cavity and support cell survival. NSCs in the fibrin/growth factor cocktail were implanted two weeks after thoracic level-3 (T3) complete spinal cord transections, thereby avoiding peak periods of inflammation. Resulting grafts completely filled the lesion cavity and differentiated into both neurons, which extended axons into the host spinal cord over remarkably long distances, and glia. Grafts of cultured human NSCs expressing GFP resulted in similar findings. Thus, methods are defined for improving neural stem cell grafting, survival and analysis of in vivo
Neuroscience, Issue 89, nervous system diseases, wounds and injuries, biological factors, therapeutics, surgical procedures, neural stem cells, transplantation, spinal cord injury, fibrin, growth factors
A Method for Ovarian Follicle Encapsulation and Culture in a Proteolytically Degradable 3 Dimensional System
Institutions: Northwestern University, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Northwestern University, Northwestern University.
The ovarian follicle is the functional unit of the ovary that secretes sex hormones and supports oocyte maturation. In vitro
follicle techniques provide a tool to model follicle development in order to investigate basic biology, and are further being developed as a technique to preserve fertility in the clinic1-4
. Our in vitro
culture system employs hydrogels in order to mimic the native ovarian environment by maintaining the 3D follicular architecture, cell-cell interactions and paracrine signaling that direct follicle development 5
. Previously, follicles were successfully cultured in alginate, an inert algae-derived polysaccharide that undergoes gelation with calcium ions6-8
. Alginate hydrogels formed at a concentration of 0.25% w/v were the most permissive for follicle culture, and retained the highest developmental competence 9
. Alginate hydrogels are not degradable, thus an increase in the follicle diameter results in a compressive force on the follicle that can impact follicle growth10
. We subsequently developed a culture system based on a fibrin-alginate interpenetrating network (FA-IPN), in which a mixture of fibrin and alginate are gelled simultaneously. This combination provides a dynamic mechanical environment because both components contribute to matrix rigidity initially; however, proteases secreted by the growing follicle degrade fibrin in the matrix leaving only alginate to provide support. With the IPN, the alginate content can be reduced below 0.25%, which is not possible with alginate alone 5
. Thus, as the follicle expands, it will experience a reduced compressive force due to the reduced solids content. Herein, we describe an encapsulation method and an in vitro
culture system for ovarian follicles within a FA-IPN. The dynamic mechanical environment mimics the natural ovarian environment in which small follicles reside in a rigid cortex and move to a more permissive medulla as they increase in size11
. The degradable component may be particularly critical for clinical translation in order to support the greater than 106
-fold increase in volume that human follicles normally undergo in vivo
Bioengineering, Issue 49, Ovarian follicle, fibrin-alginate, 3D culture system, dynamic environment
Measurement of Factor V Activity in Human Plasma Using a Microplate Coagulation Assay
Institutions: University of Ontario Institute of Technology , University of Ontario Institute of Technology , University of Ontario Institute of Technology .
In response to injury, blood coagulation is activated and results in generation of the clotting protease, thrombin. Thrombin cleaves fibrinogen to fibrin which forms an insoluble clot that stops hemorrhage. Factor V (FV) in its activated form, FVa, is a critical cofactor for the protease FXa and accelerator of thrombin generation during fibrin clot formation as part of prothrombinase 1, 2
. Manual FV assays have been described 3, 4
, but they are time consuming and subjective. Automated FV assays have been reported 5-7
, but the analyzer and reagents are expensive and generally provide only the clot time, not the rate and extent of fibrin formation. The microplate platform is preferred for measuring enzyme-catalyzed events because of convenience, time, cost, small volume, continuous monitoring, and high-throughput 8, 9
. Microplate assays have been reported for clot lysis 10
, platelet aggregation 11
, and coagulation Factors 12
, but not for FV activity in human plasma. The goal of the method was to develop a microplate assay that measures FV activity during fibrin formation in human plasma.
This novel microplate method outlines a simple, inexpensive, and rapid assay of FV activity in human plasma. The assay utilizes a kinetic microplate reader to monitor the absorbance change at 405nm during fibrin formation in human plasma (Figure 1
. The assay accurately measures the time, initial rate, and extent of fibrin clot formation. It requires only μl quantities of plasma, is complete in 6 min, has high-throughput, is sensitive to 24-80pM FV, and measures the amount of unintentionally activated (1-stage activity) and thrombin-activated FV (2-stage activity) to obtain a complete assessment of its total functional activity (2-stage activity - 1-stage activity).
Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is an acquired coagulopathy that most often develops from pre-existing infections 14
. DIC is associated with a poor prognosis and increases mortality above the pre-existing pathology 15
. The assay was used to show that in 9 patients with DIC, the FV 1-stage, 2-stage, and total activities were decreased, on average, by 54%, 44%, and 42%, respectively, compared with normal pooled human reference plasma (NHP).
The FV microplate assay is easily adaptable to measure the activity of any coagulation factor. This assay will increase our understanding of FV biochemistry through a more accurate and complete measurement of its activity in research and clinical settings. This information will positively impact healthcare environments through earlier diagnosis and development of more effective treatments for coagulation disorders, such as DIC.
Immunology, Issue 67, Factor V, Microplate, Coagulation assay, Human plasma, Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), blood clotting
A Novel Stretching Platform for Applications in Cell and Tissue Mechanobiology
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Calgary, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Tools that allow the application of mechanical forces to cells and tissues or that can quantify the mechanical properties of biological tissues have contributed dramatically to the understanding of basic mechanobiology. These techniques have been extensively used to demonstrate how the onset and progression of various diseases are heavily influenced by mechanical cues. This article presents a multi-functional biaxial stretching (BAXS) platform that can either mechanically stimulate single cells or quantify the mechanical stiffness of tissues. The BAXS platform consists of four voice coil motors that can be controlled independently. Single cells can be cultured on a flexible substrate that can be attached to the motors allowing one to expose the cells to complex, dynamic, and spatially varying strain fields. Conversely, by incorporating a force load cell, one can also quantify the mechanical properties of primary tissues as they are exposed to deformation cycles. In both cases, a proper set of clamps must be designed and mounted to the BAXS platform motors in order to firmly hold the flexible substrate or the tissue of interest. The BAXS platform can be mounted on an inverted microscope to perform simultaneous transmitted light and/or fluorescence imaging to examine the structural or biochemical response of the sample during stretching experiments. This article provides experimental details of the design and usage of the BAXS platform and presents results for single cell and whole tissue studies. The BAXS platform was used to measure the deformation of nuclei in single mouse myoblast cells in response to substrate strain and to measure the stiffness of isolated mouse aortas. The BAXS platform is a versatile tool that can be combined with various optical microscopies in order to provide novel mechanobiological insights at the sub-cellular, cellular and whole tissue levels.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, cell stretching, tissue mechanics, nuclear mechanics, uniaxial, biaxial, anisotropic, mechanobiology
Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g.
primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;
H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
Measuring the Mechanical Properties of Living Cells Using Atomic Force Microscopy
Institutions: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Mechanical properties of cells and extracellular matrix (ECM) play important roles in many biological processes including stem cell differentiation, tumor formation, and wound healing. Changes in stiffness of cells and ECM are often signs of changes in cell physiology or diseases in tissues. Hence, cell stiffness is an index to evaluate the status of cell cultures. Among the multitude of methods applied to measure the stiffness of cells and tissues, micro-indentation using an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) provides a way to reliably measure the stiffness of living cells. This method has been widely applied to characterize the micro-scale stiffness for a variety of materials ranging from metal surfaces to soft biological tissues and cells. The basic principle of this method is to indent a cell with an AFM tip of selected geometry and measure the applied force from the bending of the AFM cantilever. Fitting the force-indentation curve to the Hertz model for the corresponding tip geometry can give quantitative measurements of material stiffness. This paper demonstrates the procedure to characterize the stiffness of living cells using AFM. Key steps including the process of AFM calibration, force-curve acquisition, and data analysis using a MATLAB routine are demonstrated. Limitations of this method are also discussed.
Biophysics, Issue 76, Bioengineering, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Physics, Chemical Engineering, Biomechanics, bioengineering (general), AFM, cell stiffness, microindentation, force spectroscopy, atomic force microscopy, microscopy
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
Preparation of Complaint Matrices for Quantifying Cellular Contraction
Institutions: University of Chicago, University of Chicago, University of Chicago.
The regulation of cellular adhesion to the extracellular matrix (ECM) is essential for cell migration and ECM remodeling. Focal adhesions are macromolecular assemblies that couple the contractile F-actin cytoskeleton to the ECM. This connection allows for the transmission of intracellular mechanical forces across the cell membrane to the underlying substrate. Recent work has shown the mechanical properties of the ECM regulate focal adhesion and F-actin morphology as well as numerous physiological processes, including cell differentiation, division, proliferation and migration. Thus, the use of cell culture substrates has become an increasingly prevalent method to precisely control and modulate ECM mechanical properties.
To quantify traction forces at focal adhesions in an adherent cell, compliant substrates are used in conjunction with high-resolution imaging and computational techniques in a method termed traction force microscopy (TFM). This technique relies on measurements of the local magnitude and direction of substrate deformations induced by cellular contraction. In combination with high-resolution fluorescence microscopy of fluorescently tagged proteins, it is possible to correlate cytoskeletal organization and remodeling with traction forces.
Here we present a detailed experimental protocol for the preparation of two-dimensional, compliant matrices for the purpose of creating a cell culture substrate with a well-characterized, tunable mechanical stiffness, which is suitable for measuring cellular contraction. These protocols include the fabrication of polyacrylamide hydrogels, coating of ECM proteins on such gels, plating cells on gels, and high-resolution confocal microscopy using a perfusion chamber. Additionally, we provide a representative sample of data demonstrating location and magnitude of cellular forces using cited TFM protocols.
Bioengineering, Issue 46, Traction force microscopy, cellular adhesion, polyacrylamide gel, stiffness, elastic modulus
Preparation of DNA-crosslinked Polyacrylamide Hydrogels
Institutions: JFK Medical Center, Rutgers University, Rutgers University.
Mechanobiology is an emerging scientific area that addresses the critical role of physical cues in directing cell morphology and function. For example, the effect of tissue elasticity on cell function is a major area of mechanobiology research because tissue stiffness modulates with disease, development, and injury. Static tissue-mimicking materials, or materials that cannot alter stiffness once cells are plated, are predominately used to investigate the effects of tissue stiffness on cell functions. While information gathered from static studies is valuable, these studies are not indicative of the dynamic nature of the cellular microenvironment in vivo
. To better address the effects of dynamic stiffness on cell function, we developed a DNA-crosslinked polyacrylamide hydrogel system (DNA gels). Unlike other dynamic substrates, DNA gels have the ability to decrease or increase in stiffness after fabrication without stimuli. DNA gels consist of DNA crosslinks that are polymerized into a polyacrylamide backbone. Adding and removing crosslinks via delivery of single-stranded DNA allows temporal, spatial, and reversible control of gel elasticity. We have shown in previous reports that dynamic modulation of DNA gel elasticity influences fibroblast and neuron behavior. In this report and video, we provide a schematic that describes the DNA gel crosslinking mechanisms and step-by-step instructions on the preparation DNA gels.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, bioengineering (general), Elastic, viscoelastic, bis-acrylamide, substrate, stiffness, dynamic, static, neuron, fibroblast, compliance, ECM, mechanobiology, tunable
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
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
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
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
PRP as a New Approach to Prevent Infection: Preparation and In vitro Antimicrobial Properties of PRP
Institutions: West Virginia University , University of Pittsburgh, WVNano Initiative, Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center.
Implant-associated infection is becoming more and more challenging to the healthcare industry worldwide due to increasing antibiotic resistance, transmission of antibiotic resistant bacteria between animals and humans, and the high cost of treating infections.
In this study, we disclose a new strategy that may be effective in preventing implant-associated infection based on the potential antimicrobial properties of platelet-rich plasma (PRP). Due to its well-studied properties for promoting healing, PRP (a biological product) has been increasingly used for clinical applications including orthopaedic surgeries, periodontal and oral surgeries, maxillofacial surgeries, plastic surgeries, sports medicine, etc.
PRP could be an advanced alternative to conventional antibiotic treatments in preventing implant-associated infections. The use of PRP may be advantageous compared to conventional antibiotic treatments since PRP is less likely to induce antibiotic resistance and PRP's antimicrobial and healing-promoting properties may have a synergistic effect on infection prevention. It is well known that pathogens and human cells are racing for implant surfaces, and PRP's properties of promoting healing could improve human cell attachment thereby reducing the odds for infection. In addition, PRP is inherently biocompatible, and safe and free from the risk of transmissible diseases.
For our study, we have selected several clinical bacterial strains that are commonly found in orthopaedic infections and examined whether PRP has in vitro
antimicrobial properties against these bacteria. We have prepared PRP using a twice centrifugation approach which allows the same platelet concentration to be obtained for all samples. We have achieved consistent antimicrobial findings and found that PRP has strong in vitro
antimicrobial properties against bacteria like methicillin-sensitive and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus,
Group A Streptococcus
, and Neisseria gonorrhoeae
. Therefore, the use of PRP may have the potential to prevent infection and to reduce the need for costly post-operative treatment of implant-associated infections.
Infection, Issue 74, Infectious Diseases, Immunology, Microbiology, Medicine, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Bacterial Infections and Mycoses, Musculoskeletal Diseases, Biological Factors, Platelet-rich plasma, bacterial infection, antimicrobial, kill curve assay, Staphylococcus aureus, clinical isolate, blood, cells, clinical techniques