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.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
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
In vivo Dual Substrate Bioluminescent Imaging
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University .
Our understanding of how and when breast cancer cells transit from established primary tumors to metastatic sites has increased at an exceptional rate since the advent of in vivo
bioluminescent imaging technologies 1-3
. Indeed, the ability to locate and quantify tumor growth longitudinally in a single cohort of animals to completion of the study as opposed to sacrificing individual groups of animals at specific assay times has revolutionized how researchers investigate breast cancer metastasis. Unfortunately, current methodologies preclude the real-time assessment of critical changes that transpire in cell signaling systems as breast cancer cells (i)
evolve within primary tumors, (ii)
disseminate throughout the body, and (iii)
reinitiate proliferative programs at sites of a metastatic lesion. However, recent advancements in bioluminescent imaging now make it possible to simultaneously quantify specific spatiotemporal changes in gene expression as a function of tumor development and metastatic progression via
the use of dual substrate luminescence reactions. To do so, researchers take advantage for two light-producing luciferase enzymes isolated from the firefly (Photinus pyralis
) and sea pansy (Renilla reniformis
), both of which react to mutually exclusive substrates that previously facilitated their wide-spread use in in vitro
cell-based reporter gene assays 4
. Here we demonstrate the in vivo
utility of these two enzymes such that one luminescence reaction specifically marks the size and location of a developing tumor, while the second luminescent reaction serves as a means to visualize the activation status of specific signaling systems during distinct stages of tumor and metastasis development. Thus, the objectives of this study are two-fold. First, we will describe the steps necessary to construct dual bioluminescent reporter cell lines, as well as those needed to facilitate their use in visualizing the spatiotemporal regulation of gene expression during specific steps of the metastatic cascade. Using the 4T1 model of breast cancer metastasis, we show that the in vivo
activity of a synthetic Smad Binding Element (SBE) promoter was decreased dramatically in pulmonary metastasis as compared to that measured in the primary tumor 4-6
. Recently, breast cancer metastasis was shown to be regulated by changes within the primary tumor microenvironment and reactive stroma, including those occurring in fibroblasts and infiltrating immune cells 7-9
. Thus, our second objective will be to demonstrate the utility of dual bioluminescent techniques in monitoring the growth and localization of two unique cell populations harbored within a single animal during breast cancer growth and metastasis.
Medicine, Issue 56, firefly luciferase, Renilla Luciferase, breast cancer, metastasis, Smad
An In Vitro System to Study Tumor Dormancy and the Switch to Metastatic Growth
Institutions: University of Haifa, National Cancer Institute.
Recurrence of breast cancer often follows a long latent period in which there are no signs of cancer, and metastases may not become clinically apparent until many years after removal of the primary tumor and adjuvant therapy. A likely explanation of this phenomenon is that tumor cells have seeded metastatic sites, are resistant to conventional therapies, and remain dormant for long periods of time 1-4
The existence of dormant cancer cells at secondary sites has been described previously as quiescent solitary cells that neither proliferate nor undergo apoptosis 5-7
. Moreover, these solitary cells has been shown to disseminate from the primary tumor at an early stage of disease progression 8-10
and reside growth-arrested in the patients' bone marrow, blood and lymph nodes 1,4,11
. Therefore, understanding mechanisms that regulate dormancy or the switch to a proliferative state is critical for discovering novel targets and interventions to prevent disease recurrence. However, unraveling the mechanisms regulating the switch from tumor dormancy to metastatic growth has been hampered by the lack of available model systems.
in vivo and ex vivo
model systems to study metastatic progression of tumor cells have been described previously 1,12-14
. However these model systems have not provided in real time and in a high throughput manner mechanistic insights into what triggers the emergence of solitary dormant tumor cells to proliferate as metastatic disease. We have recently developed a 3D in vitro
system to model the in vivo
growth characteristics of cells that exhibit either dormant (D2.OR, MCF7, K7M2-AS.46) or proliferative (D2A1, MDA-MB-231, K7M2) metastatic behavior in vivo
. We demonstrated that tumor cells that exhibit dormancy in vivo
at a metastatic site remain quiescent when cultured in a 3-dimension (3D) basement membrane extract (BME), whereas cells highly metastatic in vivo
readily proliferate in 3D culture after variable, but relatively short periods of quiescence. Importantly by utilizing the 3D in vitro
model system we demonstrated for the first time that the ECM composition plays an important role in regulating whether dormant tumor cells will switch to a proliferative state and have confirmed this in in vivo
. Hence, the model system described in this report provides an in vitro
method to model tumor dormancy and study the transition to proliferative growth induced by the microenvironment.
Medicine, Issue 54, Tumor dormancy, cancer recurrence, metastasis, reconstituted basement membrane extract (BME), 3D culture, breast cancer
In vitro Mesothelial Clearance Assay that Models the Early Steps of Ovarian Cancer Metastasis
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States1
. Despite a positive initial response to therapies, 70 to 90 percent of women with ovarian cancer develop new metastases, and the recurrence is often fatal2
. It is, therefore, necessary to understand how secondary metastases arise in order to develop better treatments for intermediate and late stage ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer metastasis occurs when malignant cells detach from the primary tumor site and disseminate throughout the peritoneal cavity. The disseminated cells can form multicellular clusters, or spheroids, that will either remain unattached, or implant onto organs within the peritoneal cavity3
(Figure 1, Movie 1).
All of the organs within the peritoneal cavity are lined with a single, continuous, layer of mesothelial cells4-6
(Figure 2). However, mesothelial cells are absent from underneath peritoneal tumor masses, as revealed by electron micrograph studies of excised human tumor tissue sections3,5-7
(Figure 2). This suggests that mesothelial cells are excluded from underneath the tumor mass by an unknown process.
Previous in vitro
experiments demonstrated that primary ovarian cancer cells attach more efficiently to extracellular matrix than to mesothelial cells8
, and more recent studies showed that primary peritoneal mesothelial cells actually provide a barrier to ovarian cancer cell adhesion and invasion (as compared to adhesion and invasion on substrates that were not covered with mesothelial cells)9,10
. This would suggest that mesothelial cells act as a barrier against ovarian cancer metastasis. The cellular and molecular mechanisms by which ovarian cancer cells breach this barrier, and exclude the mesothelium have, until recently, remained unknown.
Here we describe the methodology for an in vitro
assay that models the interaction between ovarian cancer cell spheroids and mesothelial cells in vivo
(Figure 3, Movie 2). Our protocol was adapted from previously described methods for analyzing ovarian tumor cell interactions with mesothelial monolayers8-16
, and was first described in a report showing that ovarian tumor cells utilize an integrin –dependent activation of myosin and traction force to promote the exclusion of the mesothelial cells from under a tumor spheroid17
. This model takes advantage of time-lapse fluorescence microscopy to monitor the two cell populations in real time, providing spatial and temporal information on the interaction. The ovarian cancer cells express red fluorescent protein (RFP) while the mesothelial cells express green fluorescent protein (GFP). RFP-expressing ovarian cancer cell spheroids attach to the GFP-expressing mesothelial monolayer. The spheroids spread, invade, and force the mesothelial cells aside creating a hole in the monolayer. This hole is visualized as the negative space (black) in the GFP image. The area of the hole can then be measured to quantitatively analyze differences in clearance activity between control and experimental populations of ovarian cancer and/ or mesothelial cells. This assay requires only a small number of ovarian cancer cells (100 cells per spheroid X 20-30 spheroids per condition), so it is feasible to perform this assay using precious primary tumor cell samples. Furthermore, this assay can be easily adapted for high throughput screening.
Medicine, Issue 60, Ovarian Cancer, Metastasis, In vitro Model, Mesothelial, Spheroid
In vitro Organoid Culture of Primary Mouse Colon Tumors
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Michigan .
Several human and murine colon cancer cell lines have been established, physiologic integrity of colon tumors such as multiple cell layers, basal-apical polarity, ability to differentiate, and anoikis are not maintained in colon cancer derived cell lines. The present study demonstrates a method for culturing primary mouse colon tumor organoids adapted from Sato T et al. 1
, which retains important physiologic features of colon tumors. This method consists of mouse colon tumor tissue collection, adjacent normal colon epithelium dissociation, colon tumor cells digestion into single cells, embedding colon tumor cells into matrigel, and selective culture based on the principle that tumor cells maintain growth on limiting nutrient conditions compared to normal epithelial cells.
The primary tumor organoids if isolated from genetically modified mice provide a very useful system to assess tumor autonomous function of specific genes. Moreover, the tumor organoids are amenable to genetic manipulation by virus meditated gene delivery; therefore signaling pathways involved in the colon tumorigenesis could also be extensively investigated by overexpression or knockdown. Primary tumor organoids culture provides a physiologic relevant and feasible means to study the mechanisms and therapeutic modalities for colon tumorigenesis.
Cancer Biology, Issue 75, Medicine, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Genetics, Oncology, Surgery, Organoids, Tumor Cells, Cultured Colonic Neoplasms, Primary Cell Culture, Colon tumor, chelation, collagenase, matrigel, organoid, EGF, colon cancer, cancer, tumor, cell, isolation, immunohistochemistry, mouse, animal model
Flexible Colonoscopy in Mice to Evaluate the Severity of Colitis and Colorectal Tumors Using a Validated Endoscopic Scoring System
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland.
The use of modern endoscopy for research purposes has greatly facilitated our understanding of gastrointestinal pathologies. In particular, experimental endoscopy has been highly useful for studies that require repeated assessments in a single laboratory animal, such as those evaluating mechanisms of chronic inflammatory bowel disease and the progression of colorectal cancer. However, the methods used across studies are highly variable. At least three endoscopic scoring systems have been published for murine colitis and published protocols for the assessment of colorectal tumors fail to address the presence of concomitant colonic inflammation. This study develops and validates a reproducible endoscopic scoring system that integrates evaluation of both inflammation and tumors simultaneously. This novel scoring system has three major components: 1) assessment of the extent and severity of colorectal inflammation (based on perianal findings, transparency of the wall, mucosal bleeding, and focal lesions), 2) quantitative recording of tumor lesions (grid map and bar graph), and 3) numerical sorting of clinical cases by their pathological and research relevance based on decimal units with assigned categories of observed lesions and endoscopic complications (decimal identifiers). The video and manuscript presented herein were prepared, following IACUC-approved protocols, to allow investigators to score their own experimental mice using a well-validated and highly reproducible endoscopic methodology, with the system option to differentiate distal from proximal endoscopic colitis (D-PECS).
Medicine, Issue 80, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, colon cancer, Clostridium difficile, SAMP mice, DSS/AOM-colitis, decimal scoring identifier
An Orthotopic Murine Model of Human Prostate Cancer Metastasis
Institutions: Northwestern University, Northwestern University, Northwestern University.
Our laboratory has developed a novel orthotopic implantation model of human prostate cancer (PCa). As PCa death is not due to the primary tumor, but rather the formation of distinct metastasis, the ability to effectively model this progression pre-clinically is of high value. In this model, cells are directly implanted into the ventral lobe of the prostate in Balb/c athymic mice, and allowed to progress for 4-6 weeks. At experiment termination, several distinct endpoints can be measured, such as size and molecular characterization of the primary tumor, the presence and quantification of circulating tumor cells in the blood and bone marrow, and formation of metastasis to the lung. In addition to a variety of endpoints, this model provides a picture of a cells ability to invade and escape the primary organ, enter and survive in the circulatory system, and implant and grow in a secondary site. This model has been used effectively to measure metastatic response to both changes in protein expression as well as to response to small molecule therapeutics, in a short turnaround time.
Medicine, Issue 79, Urogenital System, Male Urogenital Diseases, Surgical Procedures, Operative, Life Sciences (General), Prostate Cancer, Metastasis, Mouse Model, Drug Discovery, Molecular Biology
Adaptation of Semiautomated Circulating Tumor Cell (CTC) Assays for Clinical and Preclinical Research Applications
Institutions: London Health Sciences Centre, Western University, London Health Sciences Centre, Lawson Health Research Institute, Western University.
The majority of cancer-related deaths occur subsequent to the development of metastatic disease. This highly lethal disease stage is associated with the presence of circulating tumor cells (CTCs). These rare cells have been demonstrated to be of clinical significance in metastatic breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. The current gold standard in clinical CTC detection and enumeration is the FDA-cleared CellSearch system (CSS). This manuscript outlines the standard protocol utilized by this platform as well as two additional adapted protocols that describe the detailed process of user-defined marker optimization for protein characterization of patient CTCs and a comparable protocol for CTC capture in very low volumes of blood, using standard CSS reagents, for studying in vivo
preclinical mouse models of metastasis. In addition, differences in CTC quality between healthy donor blood spiked with cells from tissue culture versus patient blood samples are highlighted. Finally, several commonly discrepant items that can lead to CTC misclassification errors are outlined. Taken together, these protocols will provide a useful resource for users of this platform interested in preclinical and clinical research pertaining to metastasis and CTCs.
Medicine, Issue 84, Metastasis, circulating tumor cells (CTCs), CellSearch system, user defined marker characterization, in vivo, preclinical mouse model, clinical research
Deficient Pms2, ERCC1, Ku86, CcOI in Field Defects During Progression to Colon Cancer
Institutions: University of Arizona, Tucson, Tucson, AZ, University of Arizona, Tucson, Tucson, AZ, University of Arizona, Tucson.
In carcinogenesis, the "field defect" is recognized clinically because of the high propensity of survivors of certain cancers to develop other malignancies of the same tissue type, often in a nearby location. Such field defects have been indicated in colon cancer. The molecular abnormalities that are responsible for a field defect in the colon should be detectable at high frequency in the histologically normal tissue surrounding a colonic adenocarcinoma or surrounding an adenoma with advanced neoplasia (well on the way to a colon cancer), but at low frequency in the colonic mucosa from patients without colonic neoplasia.
Using immunohistochemistry, entire crypts within 10 cm on each side of colonic adenocarcinomas or advanced colonic neoplasias were found to be frequently reduced or absent in expression for two DNA repair proteins, Pms2 and/or ERCC1. Pms2 is a dual role protein, active in DNA mismatch repair as well as needed in apoptosis of cells with excess DNA damage. ERCC1 is active in DNA nucleotide excision repair. The reduced or absent expression of both ERCC1 and Pms2 would create cells with both increased ability to survive (apoptosis resistance) and increased level of mutability. The reduced or absent expression of both ERCC1 and Pms2 is likely an early step in progression to colon cancer.
DNA repair gene Ku86 (active in DNA non-homologous end joining) and Cytochrome c Oxidase Subunit I (involved in apoptosis) had each been reported to be decreased in expression in mucosal areas close to colon cancers. However, immunohistochemical evaluation of their levels of expression showed only low to modest frequencies of crypts to be deficient in their expression in a field defect surrounding colon cancer or surrounding advanced colonic neoplasia.
We show, here, our method of evaluation of crypts for expression of ERCC1, Pms2, Ku86 and CcOI. We show that frequency of entire crypts deficient for Pms2 and ERCC1 is often as great as 70% to 95% in 20 cm long areas surrounding a colonic neoplasia, while frequency of crypts deficient in Ku86 has a median value of 2% and frequency of crypts deficient in CcOI has a median value of 16% in these areas. The entire colon is 150 cm long (about 5 feet) and has about 10 million crypts in its mucosal layer. The defect in Pms2 and ERCC1 surrounding a colon cancer thus may include 1 million crypts. It is from a defective crypt that colon cancer arises.
Cellular Biology, Issue 41, DNA Repair, Apoptosis, Field Defect, Colon Cancer, Pms2, ERCC1, Cytochrome c Oxidase Subunit I, Ku86, Immunohistochemistry, Cancer Resection
Modeling Colitis-Associated Cancer with Azoxymethane (AOM) and Dextran Sulfate Sodium (DSS)
Institutions: Washington University School of Medicine.
Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn's disease (CD) or ulcerative colitis (UC) are at increased risk of developing colorectal cancer (CRC) over healthy individuals. This risk is proportional to the duration and extent of disease, with a cumulative incidence as high as 30% in individuals with longstanding UC with widespread colonic involvement.1
Colonic dysplasia in IBD and colitis associated cancer (CAC) are believed to develop as a result of repeated cycles of epithelial cell injury and repair while these cells are bathed in a chronic inflammatory cytokine milieu.2
While spontaneous and colitis-associated cancers share the quality of being adenocarcinomas, the sequence of underlying molecular events is believed to be different.3
This distinction argues the need for specific animal models of CAC.
Several mouse models currently exist for the study of CAC. Dextran sulfate sodium (DSS), an agent with direct toxic effects on the colonic epithelium, can be administered in drinking water to mice in multiple cycles to create a chronic inflammatory state. With sufficient duration, some of these mice will develop tumors.4
Tumor development is hastened in this model if administered in a pro-carcinogenic setting. These include mice with genetic mutations in tumorigenesis pathways (APC, p53, Msh2), as well as mice pre-treated with genotoxic agents (azoxymethane [AOM], 1,2-dimethylhydrazine [DMH]).5
The combination of DSS with AOM as a model for colitis associated cancer has gained popularity for its reproducibility, potency, low price, and ease of use. Though they have a shared mechanism, AOM has been found to be more potent and stable in solution than DMH. While tumor development in other models generally requires several months, mice injected with AOM and subsequently treated with DSS develop adequate tumors in as little as 7-10 weeks.6, 7
Finally, AOM and DSS can be administered to mice of any genetic background (knock out, transgenic, etc.) without cross-breeding to a specific tumorigenic strain. Here, we demonstrate a protocol for inflammation-driven colonic tumorigenesis in mice utilizing a single injection of AOM followed by three seven-day cycles of DSS over a 10 week period. This model induces tumors with histological and molecular changes closely resembling those occurring in human CAC and provides a highly valuable model for the study of oncogenesis and chemoprevention in this disease.8
Medicine, Issue 67, Cancer Biology, Immunology, Physiology, Colitis, Cancer, Dextran Sulfate Sodium, Azoxymethane, Inflammation, Animal model, Crohn's Disease
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)
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
Shape Memory Polymers for Active Cell Culture
Institutions: Syracuse Biomaterials Institute.
Shape memory polymers (SMPs) are a class of "smart" materials that have the ability to change from a fixed, temporary shape to a pre-determined permanent shape upon the application of a stimulus such as heat1-5
. In a typical shape memory cycle, the SMP is first deformed at an elevated temperature that is higher than its transition temperature, Ttrans
[either the melting temperature (Tm
) or the glass transition temperature (Tg
)]. The deformation is elastic in nature and mainly leads to a reduction in conformational entropy of the constituent network chains (following the rubber elasticity theory). The deformed SMP is then cooled to a temperature below its Ttrans
while maintaining the external strain or stress constant. During cooling, the material transitions to a more rigid state (semi-crystalline or glassy), which kinetically traps or "freezes" the material in this low-entropy state leading to macroscopic shape fixing. Shape recovery is triggered by continuously heating the material through Ttrans
under a stress-free (unconstrained) condition. By allowing the network chains (with regained mobility) to relax to their thermodynamically favored, maximal-entropy state, the material changes from the temporary shape to the permanent shape.
Cells are capable of surveying the mechanical properties of their surrounding environment6
. The mechanisms through which mechanical interactions between cells and their physical environment control cell behavior are areas of active research. Substrates of defined topography have emerged as powerful tools in the investigation of these mechanisms. Mesoscale, microscale, and nanoscale patterns of substrate topography have been shown to direct cell alignment, cell adhesion, and cell traction forces7-14
. These findings have underscored the potential for substrate topography to control and assay the mechanical interactions between cells and their physical environment during cell culture, but the substrates used to date have generally been passive and could not be programmed to change significantly during culture. This physical stasis has limited the potential of topographic substrates to control cells in culture.
Here, active cell culture (ACC) SMP substrates are introduced that employ surface shape memory to provide programmed control of substrate topography and deformation. These substrates demonstrate the ability to transition from a temporary grooved topography to a second, nearly flat memorized topography. This change in topography can be used to control cell behavior under standard cell culture conditions.
Bioengineering, Issue 53, Shape Memory Polymer, Mechanobiology, Tissue Engineering, Cell Culture, Cell Biomechanics
Micropipette Aspiration of Substrate-attached Cells to Estimate Cell Stiffness
Institutions: University of Illinois, University of Pennsylvania .
Growing number of studies show that biomechanical properties of individual cells play major roles in multiple cellular functions, including cell proliferation, differentiation, migration and cell-cell interactions. The two key parameters of cellular biomechanics are cellular deformability or stiffness and the ability of the cells to contract and generate force. Here we describe a quick and simple method to estimate cell stiffness by measuring the degree of membrane deformation in response to negative pressure applied by a glass micropipette to the cell surface, a technique that is called Micropipette Aspiration or Microaspiration.
Microaspiration is performed by pulling a glass capillary to create a micropipette with a very small tip (2-50 μm diameter depending on the size of a cell or a tissue sample), which is then connected to a pneumatic pressure transducer and brought to a close vicinity of a cell under a microscope. When the tip of the pipette touches a cell, a step of negative pressure is applied to the pipette by the pneumatic pressure transducer generating well-defined pressure on the cell membrane. In response to pressure, the membrane is aspirated into the pipette and progressive membrane deformation or "membrane projection" into the pipette is measured as a function of time. The basic principle of this experimental approach is that the degree of membrane deformation in response to a defined mechanical force is a function of membrane stiffness. The stiffer the membrane is, the slower the rate of membrane deformation and the shorter the steady-state aspiration length.The technique can be performed on isolated cells, both in suspension and substrate-attached, large organelles, and liposomes.
Analysis is performed by comparing maximal membrane deformations achieved under a given pressure for different cell populations or experimental conditions. A "stiffness coefficient" is estimated by plotting the aspirated length of membrane deformation as a function of the applied pressure. Furthermore, the data can be further analyzed to estimate the Young's modulus of the cells (E), the most common parameter to characterize stiffness of materials. It is important to note that plasma membranes of eukaryotic cells can be viewed as a bi-component system where membrane lipid bilayer is underlied by the sub-membrane cytoskeleton and that it is the cytoskeleton that constitutes the mechanical scaffold of the membrane and dominates the deformability of the cellular envelope. This approach, therefore, allows probing the biomechanical properties of the sub-membrane cytoskeleton.
Bioengineering, Issue 67, Biophysics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Cellular Biology, Cell stiffness, biomechanics, microaspiration, cell membrane, cytoskeleton
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
Induction and Analysis of Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition
Institutions: R&D Systems, Inc., R&D Systems, Inc..
Epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is essential for proper morphogenesis during development. Misregulation of this process has been implicated as a key event in fibrosis and the progression of carcinomas to a metastatic state. Understanding the processes that underlie EMT is imperative for the early diagnosis and clinical control of these disease states. Reliable induction of EMT in vitro
is a useful tool for drug discovery as well as to identify common gene expression signatures for diagnostic purposes. Here we demonstrate a straightforward method for the induction of EMT in a variety of cell types. Methods for the analysis of cells pre- and post-EMT induction by immunocytochemistry are also included. Additionally, we demonstrate the effectiveness of this method through antibody-based array analysis and migration/invasion assays.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Cellular Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Stem Cell Biology, Cancer Biology, Medicine, Bioengineering, Anatomy, Physiology, biology (general), Pathological Conditions, Signs and Symptoms, Wounds and Injuries, Neoplasms, Diagnosis, Therapeutics, Epithelial to mesenchymal transition, EMT, cancer, metastasis, cancer stem cell, cell, assay, immunohistochemistry
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
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 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 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
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
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
Measurement of Tension Release During Laser Induced Axon Lesion to Evaluate Axonal Adhesion to the Substrate at Piconewton and Millisecond Resolution
Institutions: National Research Council of Italy, Università di Firenze, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia.
The formation of functional connections in a developing neuronal network is influenced by extrinsic cues. The neurite growth of developing neurons is subject to chemical and mechanical signals, and the mechanisms by which it senses and responds to mechanical signals are poorly understood. Elucidating the role of forces in cell maturation will enable the design of scaffolds that can promote cell adhesion and cytoskeletal coupling to the substrate, and therefore improve the capacity of different neuronal types to regenerate after injury.
Here, we describe a method to apply simultaneous force spectroscopy measurements during laser induced cell lesion. We measure tension release in the partially lesioned axon by simultaneous interferometric tracking of an optically trapped probe adhered to the membrane of the axon. Our experimental protocol detects the tension release with piconewton sensitivity, and the dynamic of the tension release at millisecond time resolution. Therefore, it offers a high-resolution method to study how the mechanical coupling between cells and substrates can be modulated by pharmacological treatment and/or by distinct mechanical properties of the substrate.
Bioengineering, Issue 75, Biophysics, Neuroscience, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Engineering (General), Life Sciences (General), Physics (General), Axon, tension release, Laser dissector, optical tweezers, force spectroscopy, neurons, neurites, cytoskeleton, adhesion, cell culture, microscopy
A Mouse Tumor Model of Surgical Stress to Explore the Mechanisms of Postoperative Immunosuppression and Evaluate Novel Perioperative Immunotherapies
Institutions: Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, The Second Hospital of Shandong University, University of Tabuk, Ottawa General Hospital.
Surgical resection is an essential treatment for most cancer patients, but surgery induces dysfunction in the immune system and this has been linked to the development of metastatic disease in animal models and in cancer patients. Preclinical work from our group and others has demonstrated a profound suppression of innate immune function, specifically NK cells in the postoperative period and this plays a major role in the enhanced development of metastases following surgery. Relatively few animal studies and clinical trials have focused on characterizing and reversing the detrimental effects of cancer surgery. Using a rigorous animal model of spontaneously metastasizing tumors and surgical stress, the enhancement of cancer surgery on the development of lung metastases was demonstrated. In this model, 4T1 breast cancer cells are implanted in the mouse mammary fat pad. At day 14 post tumor implantation, a complete resection of the primary mammary tumor is performed in all animals. A subset of animals receives additional surgical stress in the form of an abdominal nephrectomy. At day 28, lung tumor nodules are quantified. When immunotherapy was given immediately preoperatively, a profound activation of immune cells which prevented the development of metastases following surgery was detected. While the 4T1 breast tumor surgery model allows for the simulation of the effects of abdominal surgical stress on tumor metastases, its applicability to other tumor types needs to be tested. The current challenge is to identify safe and promising immunotherapies in preclinical mouse models and to translate them into viable perioperative therapies to be given to cancer surgery patients to prevent the recurrence of metastatic disease.
Medicine, Issue 85, mouse, tumor model, surgical stress, immunosuppression, perioperative immunotherapy, metastases
Transplantation of Whole Kidney Marrow in Adult Zebrafish
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) are a rare population of pluripotent cells that maintain all the differentiated blood lineages throughout the life of an organism. The functional definition of a HSC is a transplanted cell that has the ability to reconstitute all the blood lineages of an irradiated recipient long term. This designation was established by decades of seminal work in mammalian systems. Using hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) and reverse genetic manipulations in the mouse, the underlying regulatory factors of HSC biology are beginning to be unveiled, but are still largely under-explored. Recently, the zebrafish has emerged as a powerful genetic model to study vertebrate hematopoiesis. Establishing HCT in zebrafish will allow scientists to utilize the large-scale genetic and chemical screening methodologies available in zebrafish to reveal novel mechanisms underlying HSC regulation. In this article, we demonstrate a method to perform HCT in adult zebrafish. We show the dissection and preparation of zebrafish whole kidney marrow, the site of adult hematopoiesis in the zebrafish, and the introduction of these donor cells into the circulation of irradiated recipient fish via intracardiac injection. Additionally, we describe the post-transplant care of fish in an "ICU" to increase their long-term health. In general, gentle care of the fish before, during, and after the transplant is critical to increase the number of fish that will survive more than one month following the procedure, which is essential for assessment of long term (<3 month) engraftment. The experimental data used to establish this protocol will be published elsewhere. The establishment of this protocol will allow for the merger of large-scale zebrafish genetics and transplant biology.
Developmental Biology, Issue 2, zebrafish, HSC, stem cells, transplant