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.
16 Related JoVE Articles!
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
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
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
Measuring Ascending Aortic Stiffness In Vivo in Mice Using Ultrasound
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins University, Macquarie University.
We present a protocol for measuring in vivo
aortic stiffness in mice using high-resolution ultrasound imaging. Aortic diameter is measured by ultrasound and aortic blood pressure is measured invasively with a solid-state pressure catheter. Blood pressure is raised then lowered incrementally by intravenous infusion of vasoactive drugs phenylephrine and sodium nitroprusside. Aortic diameter is measured for each pressure step to characterize the pressure-diameter relationship of the ascending aorta. Stiffness indices derived from the pressure-diameter relationship can be calculated from the data collected. Calculation of arterial compliance is described in this protocol.
This technique can be used to investigate mechanisms underlying increased aortic stiffness associated with cardiovascular disease and aging. The technique produces a physiologically relevant measure of stiffness compared to ex vivo
approaches because physiological influences on aortic stiffness are incorporated in the measurement. The primary limitation of this technique is the measurement error introduced from the movement of the aorta during the cardiac cycle. This motion can be compensated by adjusting the location of the probe with the aortic movement as well as making multiple measurements of the aortic pressure-diameter relationship and expanding the experimental group size.
Medicine, Issue 94, Aortic stiffness, ultrasound, in vivo, aortic compliance, elastic modulus, mouse model, cardiovascular disease
Adjustable Stiffness, External Fixator for the Rat Femur Osteotomy and Segmental Bone Defect Models
Institutions: Queensland University of Technology, RISystem AG.
The mechanical environment around the healing of broken bone is very important as it determines the way the fracture will heal. Over the past decade there has been great clinical interest in improving bone healing by altering the mechanical environment through the fixation stability around the lesion. One constraint of preclinical animal research in this area is the lack of experimental control over the local mechanical environment within a large segmental defect as well as osteotomies as they heal. In this paper we report on the design and use of an external fixator to study the healing of large segmental bone defects or osteotomies. This device not only allows for controlled axial stiffness on the bone lesion as it heals, but it also enables the change of stiffness during the healing process in vivo.
The conducted experiments have shown that the fixators were able to maintain a 5 mm femoral defect gap in rats in vivo
during unrestricted cage activity for at least 8 weeks. Likewise, we observed no distortion or infections, including pin infections during the entire healing period. These results demonstrate that our newly developed external fixator was able to achieve reproducible and standardized stabilization, and the alteration of the mechanical environment of in vivo
rat large bone defects and various size osteotomies. This confirms that the external fixation device is well suited for preclinical research investigations using a rat model in the field of bone regeneration and repair.
Medicine, Issue 92, external fixator, bone healing, small animal model, large bone defect and osteotomy model, rat model, mechanical environment, mechanobiology.
Density Gradient Multilayered Polymerization (DGMP): A Novel Technique for Creating Multi-compartment, Customizable Scaffolds for Tissue Engineering
Institutions: University of California, San Diego , University of California, San Diego , University of California, San Diego .
Complex tissue culture matrices, in which types and concentrations of biological stimuli (e.g.
growth factors, inhibitors, or small molecules) or matrix structure (e.g.
composition, concentration, or stiffness of the matrix) vary over space, would enable a wide range of investigations concerning how these variables affect cell differentiation, migration, and other phenomena. The major challenge in creating layered matrices is maintaining the structural integrity of layer interfaces without diffusion of individual components from each layer1
. Current methodologies to achieve this include photopatterning2-3
, sequential functionalization5, freeze drying6
, or centrifugation8
, many of which require sophisticated instrumentation and technical skills. Others rely on sequential attachment of individual layers, which may lead to delamination of layers9
DGMP overcomes these issues by using an inert density modifier such as iodixanol to create layers of varying densities10
. Since the density modifier can be mixed with any prepolymer or bioactive molecule, DGMP allows each scaffold layer to be customized. Simply varying the concentration of the density modifier prevents mixing of adjacent layers while they remain aqueous. Subsequent single step polymerization gives rise to a structurally continuous multilayered scaffold, in which each layer has distinct chemical and mechanical properties. The density modifier can be easily removed with sufficient rinsing without perturbation of the individual layers or their components. This technique is therefore well suited for creating hydrogels of various sizes, shapes, and materials.
A protocol for fabricating a 2D-polyethylene glycol (PEG) gel, in which alternating layers incorporate RGDS-350, is outlined below. We use PEG because it is biocompatible and inert. RGDS, a cell adhesion peptide11
, is used to demonstrate spatial restriction of a biological cue, and the conjugation of a fluorophore (Alexa Fluor 350) enables us to visually distinguish various layers. This procedure can be adapted for other materials (e.g.
collagen, hyaluronan, etc.) and can be extended to fabricate 3D gels with some modifications10
Bioengineering, Issue 72, Biomedical Engineering, Tissue Engineering, Cell Culture Techniques, Tissue Culture Techniques, hydrogels, life sciences, bioengineering (general), Scaffolds, hydrogels, cell culture, polyethylene glycol, RGDS
Quantifying the Mechanical Properties of the Endothelial Glycocalyx with Atomic Force Microscopy
Institutions: University of Rochester .
Our understanding of the interaction of leukocytes and the vessel wall during leukocyte capture is limited by an incomplete understanding of the mechanical properties of the endothelial surface layer. It is known that adhesion molecules on leukocytes are distributed non-uniformly relative to surface topography 3
, that topography limits adhesive bond formation with other surfaces 9
, and that physiological contact forces (≈ 5.0 − 10.0 pN per microvillus) can compress the microvilli to as little as a third of their resting length, increasing the accessibility of molecules to the opposing surface 3, 7
. We consider the endothelium as a two-layered structure, the relatively rigid cell body, plus the glycocalyx, a soft protective sugar coating on the luminal surface 6
. It has been shown that the glycocalyx can act as a barrier to reduce adhesion of leukocytes to the endothelial surface 4
. In this report we begin to address the deformability of endothelial surfaces to understand how the endothelial mechanical stiffness might affect bond formation. Endothelial cells grown in static culture do not express a robust glycocalyx, but cells grown under physiological flow conditions begin to approximate the glycocalyx observed in vivo 2
. The modulus of the endothelial cell body has been measured using atomic force microscopy (AFM) to be approximately 5 to 20 kPa 5
. The thickness and structure of the glycocalyx have been studied using electron microscopy 8
, and the modulus of the glycocalyx has been approximated using indirect methods, but to our knowledge, there have been no published reports of a direct measurement of the glycocalyx modulus in living cells. In this study, we present indentation experiments made with a novel AFM probe on cells that have been cultured in conditions to maximize their glycocalyx expression to make direct measurements of the modulus and thickness of the endothelial glycocalyx.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 72, Bioengineering, Cellular Biology, Biophysics, Molecular Biology, Endothelium, Vascular, Membrane Glycoproteins, Receptors, Leukocyte-Adhesion, bioengineering (general), glycocalyx, mechanical properties, atomic force microscopy, ATM, Endothelial cells, leukocytes, cell wall, cell culture, microscopy, imaging
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
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
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
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)
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
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
Micro-Mechanical Characterization of Lung Tissue Using Atomic Force Microscopy
Institutions: Harvard School of Public Health.
Matrix stiffness strongly influences growth, differentiation and function of adherent cells1-3
. On the macro scale the stiffness of tissues and organs within the human body span several orders of magnitude4
. Much less is known about how stiffness varies spatially within tissues, and what the scope and spatial scale of stiffness changes are in disease processes that result in tissue remodeling. To better understand how changes in matrix stiffness contribute to cellular physiology in health and disease, measurements of tissue stiffness obtained at a spatial scale relevant to resident cells are needed. This is particularly true for the lung, a highly compliant and elastic tissue in which matrix remodeling is a prominent feature in diseases such as asthma, emphysema, hypertension and fibrosis. To characterize the local mechanical environment of lung parenchyma at a spatial scale relevant to resident cells, we have developed methods to directly measure the local elastic properties of fresh murine lung tissue using atomic force microscopy (AFM) microindentation. With appropriate choice of AFM indentor, cantilever, and indentation depth, these methods allow measurements of local tissue shear modulus in parallel with phase contrast and fluorescence imaging of the region of interest. Systematic sampling of tissue strips provides maps of tissue mechanical properties that reveal local spatial variations in shear modulus. Correlations between mechanical properties and underlying anatomical and pathological features illustrate how stiffness varies with matrix deposition in fibrosis. These methods can be extended to other soft tissues and disease processes to reveal how local tissue mechanical properties vary across space and disease progression.
Biophysics, Issue 54, Atomic force microscopy, indentation, stiffness, fibrosis, extracellular matrix
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
Measuring the Bending Stiffness of Bacterial Cells Using an Optical Trap
Institutions: Princeton University, Princeton University.
We developed a protocol to measure the bending rigidity of filamentous rod-shaped bacteria. Forces are applied with an optical trap, a microscopic three-dimensional spring made of light that is formed when a high-intensity laser beam is focused to a very small spot by a microscope's objective lens. To bend a cell, we first bind live bacteria to a chemically-treated coverslip. As these cells grow, the middle of the cells remains bound to the coverslip but the growing ends are free of this restraint. By inducing filamentous growth with the drug cephalexin, we are able to identify cells in which one end of the cell was stuck to the surface while the other end remained unattached and susceptible to bending forces. A bending force is then applied with an optical trap by binding a polylysine-coated bead to the tip of a growing cell. Both the force and the displacement of the bead are recorded and the bending stiffness of the cell is the slope of this relationship.
Microbiology, Issue 38, optical trap, cell mechanics, E. coli, cell bending