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!
A 3D System for Culturing Human Articular Chondrocytes in Synovial Fluid
Institutions: Tufts University School of Medicine, Tufts Medical Center.
Cartilage destruction is a central pathological feature of osteoarthritis, a leading cause of disability in the US. Cartilage in the adult does not regenerate very efficiently in vivo
; and as a result, osteoarthritis leads to irreversible cartilage loss and is accompanied by chronic pain and immobility 1,2
. Cartilage tissue engineering offers promising potential to regenerate and restore tissue function. This technology typically involves seeding chondrocytes into natural or synthetic scaffolds and culturing the resulting 3D construct in a balanced medium over a period of time with a goal of engineering a biochemically and biomechanically mature tissue that can be transplanted into a defect site in vivo 3-6
. Achieving an optimal condition for chondrocyte growth and matrix deposition is essential for the success of cartilage tissue engineering.
In the native joint cavity, cartilage at the articular surface of the bone is bathed in synovial fluid. This clear and viscous fluid provides nutrients to the avascular articular cartilage and contains growth factors, cytokines and enzymes that are important for chondrocyte metabolism 7,8
. Furthermore, synovial fluid facilitates low-friction movement between cartilaginous surfaces mainly through secreting two key components, hyaluronan and lubricin 9 10
. In contrast, tissue engineered cartilage is most often cultured in artificial media. While these media are likely able to provide more defined conditions for studying chondrocyte metabolism, synovial fluid most accurately reflects the natural environment of which articular chondrocytes reside in.
Indeed, synovial fluid has the advantage of being easy to obtain and store, and can often be regularly replenished by the body. Several groups have supplemented the culture medium with synovial fluid in growing human, bovine, rabbit and dog chondrocytes, but mostly used only low levels of synovial fluid (below 20%) 11-25
. While chicken, horse and human chondrocytes have been cultured in the medium with higher percentage of synovial fluid, these culture systems were two-dimensional 26-28
. Here we present our method of culturing human articular chondrocytes in a 3D system with a high percentage of synovial fluid (up to 100%) over a period of 21 days. In doing so, we overcame a major hurdle presented by the high viscosity of the synovial fluid. This system provides the possibility of studying human chondrocytes in synovial fluid in a 3D setting, which can be further combined with two other important factors (oxygen tension and mechanical loading) 29,30
that constitute the natural environment for cartilage to mimic the natural milieu for cartilage growth. Furthermore, This system may also be used for assaying synovial fluid activity on chondrocytes and provide a platform for developing cartilage regeneration technologies and therapeutic options for arthritis.
Cellular Biology, Issue 59, Chondrocytes, articular, human, synovial fluid, alginate bead, 3D culture
AFM-based Mapping of the Elastic Properties of Cell Walls: at Tissue, Cellular, and Subcellular Resolutions
Institutions: Université Paris Diderot, INRA Centre de Versailles-Grignon.
We describe a recently developed method to measure mechanical properties of the surfaces of plant tissues using atomic force microscopy (AFM) micro/nano-indentations, for a JPK AFM. Specifically, in this protocol we measure the apparent Young’s modulus of cell walls at subcellular resolutions across regions of up to 100 µm x 100 µm in floral meristems, hypocotyls, and roots. This requires careful preparation of the sample, the correct selection of micro-indenters and indentation depths. To account for cell wall properties only, measurements are performed in highly concentrated solutions of mannitol in order to plasmolyze the cells and thus remove the contribution of cell turgor pressure.
In contrast to other extant techniques, by using different indenters and indentation depths, this method allows simultaneous multiscale measurements, i.e.
at subcellular resolutions and across hundreds of cells comprising a tissue. This means that it is now possible to spatially-temporally characterize the changes that take place in the mechanical properties of cell walls during development, enabling these changes to be correlated with growth and differentiation. This represents a key step to understand how coordinated microscopic cellular changes bring about macroscopic morphogenetic events.
However, several limitations remain: the method can only be used on fairly small samples (around 100 µm in diameter) and only on external tissues; the method is sensitive to tissue topography; it measures only certain aspects of the tissue’s complex mechanical properties. The technique is being developed rapidly and it is likely that most of these limitations will be resolved in the near future.
Plant Biology, Issue 89, Tissue growth, Cell wall, Plant mechanics, Elasticity, Young’s modulus, Root, Apical meristem, Hypocotyl, Organ formation, Biomechanics, Morphogenesis
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
Matrix-assisted Autologous Chondrocyte Transplantation for Remodeling and Repair of Chondral Defects in a Rabbit Model
Institutions: Klinikum rechts der Isar der Technischen Universität München, Klinikum rechts der Isar der Technischen Universität München, Klinikum rechts der Isar der Technischen Universität München, Uniklinik Köln.
Articular cartilage defects are considered a major health problem because articular cartilage has a limited capacity for self-regeneration 1
. Untreated cartilage lesions lead to ongoing pain, negatively affect the quality of life and predispose for osteoarthritis. During the last decades, several surgical techniques have been developed to treat such lesions. However, until now it was not possible to achieve a full repair in terms of covering the defect with hyaline articular cartilage or of providing satisfactory long-term recovery 2-4
. Therefore, articular cartilage injuries remain a prime target for regenerative techniques such as Tissue Engineering. In contrast to other surgical techniques, which often lead to the formation of fibrous or fibrocartilaginous tissue, Tissue Engineering aims at fully restoring the complex structure and properties of the original articular cartilage by using the chondrogenic potential of transplanted cells. Recent developments opened up promising possibilities for regenerative cartilage therapies.
The first cell based approach for the treatment of full-thickness cartilage or osteochondral lesions was performed in 1994 by Lars Peterson and Mats Brittberg who pioneered clinical autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI) 5
. Today, the technique is clinically well-established for the treatment of large hyaline cartilage defects of the knee, maintaining good clinical results even 10 to 20 years after implantation 6
. In recent years, the implantation of autologous chondrocytes underwent a rapid progression. The use of an artificial three-dimensional collagen-matrix on which cells are subsequently replanted became more and more popular 7-9
MACT comprises of two surgical procedures: First, in order to collect chondrocytes, a cartilage biopsy needs to be performed from a non weight-bearing cartilage area of the knee joint. Then, chondrocytes are being extracted, purified and expanded to a sufficient cell number in vitro
. Chondrocytes are then seeded onto a three-dimensional matrix and can subsequently be re-implanted. When preparing a tissue-engineered implant, proliferation rate and differentiation capacity are crucial for a successful tissue regeneration 10
. The use of a three-dimensional matrix as a cell carrier is thought to support these cellular characteristics 11
The following protocol will summarize and demonstrate a technique for the isolation of chondrocytes from cartilage biopsies, their proliferation in vitro
and their seeding onto a 3D-matrix (Chondro-Gide
, Geistlich Biomaterials, Wollhusen, Switzerland). Finally, the implantation of the cell-matrix-constructs into artificially created chondral defects of a rabbit's knee joint will be described. This technique can be used as an experimental setting for further experiments of cartilage repair.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 75, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Tissue Engineering, Surgery, Autologous chondrocyte implantation, matrix-assisted, matrix, collagen scaffold, chondral lesion, cartilage, rabbit, experimental, cartilage defects, cartilage repair, regenerative therapy, chondrocytes, cell culture, isolation, transplantation, animal model
Live Cell Response to Mechanical Stimulation Studied by Integrated Optical and Atomic Force Microscopy
Institutions: Texas A&M Health Science Center, Texas A&M University.
To understand the mechanism by which living cells sense mechanical forces, and how they respond and adapt to their environment, a new technology able to investigate cells behavior at sub-cellular level with high spatial and temporal resolution was developed. Thus, an atomic force microscope (AFM) was integrated with total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy and fast-spinning disk (FSD) confocal microscopy. The integrated system is broadly applicable across a wide range of molecular dynamic studies in any adherent live cells, allowing direct optical imaging of cell responses to mechanical stimulation in real-time. Significant rearrangement of the actin filaments and focal adhesions was shown due to local mechanical stimulation at the apical cell surface that induced changes into the cellular structure throughout the cell body. These innovative techniques will provide new information for understanding live cell restructuring and dynamics in response to mechanical force. A detailed protocol and a representative data set that show live cell response to mechanical stimulation are presented.
Cellular Biology, Issue 44, live cells, mechanical stimulation, integrated microscopy, atomic force microscopy, spinning-disk confocal, total internal reflection fluorescence
Human Cartilage Tissue Fabrication Using Three-dimensional Inkjet Printing Technology
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Stemorgan Inc., Technical University of Munich, Wuhan University, The Scripps Research Institute, Tokyo University of Science.
Bioprinting, which is based on thermal inkjet printing, is one of the most attractive enabling technologies in the field of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. With digital control cells, scaffolds, and growth factors can be precisely deposited to the desired two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) locations rapidly. Therefore, this technology is an ideal approach to fabricate tissues mimicking their native anatomic structures. In order to engineer cartilage with native zonal organization, extracellular matrix composition (ECM), and mechanical properties, we developed a bioprinting platform using a commercial inkjet printer with simultaneous photopolymerization capable for 3D cartilage tissue engineering. Human chondrocytes suspended in poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA) were printed for 3D neocartilage construction via layer-by-layer assembly. The printed cells were fixed at their original deposited positions, supported by the surrounding scaffold in simultaneous photopolymerization. The mechanical properties of the printed tissue were similar to the native cartilage. Compared to conventional tissue fabrication, which requires longer UV exposure, the viability of the printed cells with simultaneous photopolymerization was significantly higher. Printed neocartilage demonstrated excellent glycosaminoglycan (GAG) and collagen type II production, which was consistent with gene expression. Therefore, this platform is ideal for accurate cell distribution and arrangement for anatomic tissue engineering.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, cartilage, inkjet printing, chondrocytes, hydrogel, photopolymerization, tissue engineering
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
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
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
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
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
Design of a Biaxial Mechanical Loading Bioreactor for Tissue Engineering
Institutions: The Warren Alpert Brown Medical School of Brown University and the Rhode Island Hospital, VA Medical Center, Providence, RI, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center .
We designed a loading device that is capable of applying uniaxial or biaxial mechanical strain to a tissue engineered biocomposites fabricated for transplantation. While the device primarily functions as a bioreactor that mimics the native mechanical strains, it is also outfitted with a load cell for providing force feedback or mechanical testing of the constructs. The device subjects engineered cartilage constructs to biaxial mechanical loading with great precision of loading dose (amplitude and frequency) and is compact enough to fit inside a standard tissue culture incubator. It loads samples directly in a tissue culture plate, and multiple plate sizes are compatible with the system. The device has been designed using components manufactured for precision-guided laser applications. Bi-axial loading is accomplished by two orthogonal stages. The stages have a 50 mm travel range and are driven independently by stepper motor actuators, controlled by a closed-loop stepper motor driver that features micro-stepping capabilities, enabling step sizes of less than 50 nm. A polysulfone loading platen is coupled to the bi-axial moving platform. Movements of the stages are controlled by Thor-labs Advanced Positioning Technology (APT) software. The stepper motor driver is used with the software to adjust load parameters of frequency and amplitude of both shear and compression independently and simultaneously. Positional feedback is provided by linear optical encoders that have a bidirectional repeatability of 0.1 μm and a resolution of 20 nm, translating to a positional accuracy of less than 3 μm over the full 50 mm of travel. These encoders provide the necessary position feedback to the drive electronics to ensure true nanopositioning capabilities. In order to provide the force feedback to detect contact and evaluate loading responses, a precision miniature load cell is positioned between the loading platen and the moving platform. The load cell has high accuracies of 0.15% to 0.25% full scale.
Bioengineering, Issue 74, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Cellular Biology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Cell Engineering, Bioreactors, Culture Techniques, Cell Engineering, Tissue Engineering, compression loads, shear loads, Tissues, bioreactor, mechanical loading, compression, shear, musculoskeletal, cartilage, bone, transplantation, cell culture
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
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
Characterization Of Multi-layered Fish Scales (Atractosteus spatula) Using Nanoindentation, X-ray CT, FTIR, and SEM
Institutions: U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, University of Alabama, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center.
The hierarchical architecture of protective biological materials such as mineralized fish scales, gastropod shells, ram’s horn, antlers, and turtle shells provides unique design principles with potentials for guiding the design of protective materials and systems in the future. Understanding the structure-property relationships for these material systems at the microscale and nanoscale where failure initiates is essential. Currently, experimental techniques such as nanoindentation, X-ray CT, and SEM provide researchers with a way to correlate the mechanical behavior with hierarchical microstructures of these material systems1-6
. However, a well-defined standard procedure for specimen preparation of mineralized biomaterials is not currently available. In this study, the methods for probing spatially correlated chemical, structural, and mechanical properties of the multilayered scale of A. spatula
using nanoindentation, FTIR, SEM, with energy-dispersive X-ray (EDX) microanalysis, and X-ray CT are presented.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, Atractosteus spatula, structure-property relation, nanoindentation, scan electron microscopy, X-ray computed tomography, Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy
Monitoring Actin Disassembly with Time-lapse Microscopy
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Cellular Biology, Issue 1, cytoskeleton, actin, timelapse, filament, chamber