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.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Implantation of Ferumoxides Labeled Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Cartilage Defects
Institutions: Medical Center, University of California San Francisco.
The field of tissue engineering integrates the principles of engineering, cell biology and medicine towards the regeneration of specific cells and functional tissue. Matrix associated stem cell implants (MASI) aim to regenerate cartilage defects due to arthritic or traumatic joint injuries. Adult mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have the ability to differentiate into cells of the chondrogenic lineage and have shown promising results for cell-based articular cartilage repair technologies. Autologous MSCs can be isolated from a variety of tissues, can be expanded in cell cultures without losing their differentiation potential, and have demonstrated chondrogenic differentiation in vitro
and in vivo1, 2
In order to provide local retention and viability of transplanted MSCs in cartilage defects, a scaffold is needed, which also supports subsequent differentiation and proliferation. The architecture of the scaffold guides tissue formation and permits the extracellular matrix, produced by the stem cells, to expand. Previous investigations have shown that a 2% agarose scaffold may support the development of stable hyaline cartilage and does not induce immune responses3
Long term retention of transplanted stem cells in MASI is critical for cartilage regeneration. Labeling of MSCs with iron oxide nanoparticles allows for long-term in vivo
tracking with non-invasive MR imaging techniques4
This presentation will demonstrate techniques for labeling MSCs with iron oxide nanoparticles, the generation of cell-agarose constructs and implantation of these constructs into cartilage defects. The labeled constructs can be tracked non-invasively with MR-Imaging.
Cellular Biology, Issue 38, Stem cells, cartilage defect, agarose, scaffold, tissue engineering, implantation, MASI
In Utero Intraventricular Injection and Electroporation of E16 Rat Embryos
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco - UCSF.
In-utero in-vivo injection and electroporation of the embryonic rat neocortex provides a powerful tool for the manipulation of individual progenitors lining the walls of the lateral ventricle. This technique is now widely used to study the processes involved in corticogenesis by over-expressing or knocking down genes and observing the effects on cellular proliferation, migration, and differentiation. In comparison to traditional knockout strategies, in-utero electroporation provides a rapid means to manipulate a population of cells during a specific temporal window. In this video protocol, we outline the experimental methodology for preparing rats for surgery, exposing the uterine horns through laporatomy, injecting DNA into the lateral ventricles of the developing embryo, electroporating DNA into the progenitors lining the lateral wall, and caring for animals post-surgery. Our laboratory uses this protocol for surgeries on E15-E21 rats, however it is most commonly performed at E16 as shown in this video.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, Protocol, Stem Cells, Cerebral Cortex, Brain Development, Electroporation, Intra Uterine Injections, transfection
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
Dorsal Root Ganglia Neurons and Differentiated Adipose-derived Stem Cells: An In Vitro Co-culture Model to Study Peripheral Nerve Regeneration
Institutions: EPFL | STI | IMT/IBI | LSBI, The University of Manchester, University Hospital of South Manchester.
Dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons, located in the intervertebral foramina of the spinal column, can be used to create an in vitro
system facilitating the study of nerve regeneration and myelination. The glial cells of the peripheral nervous system, Schwann cells (SC), are key facilitators of these processes; it is therefore crucial that the interactions of these cellular components are studied together. Direct contact between DRG neurons and glial cells provides additional stimuli sensed by specific membrane receptors, further improving the neuronal response. SC release growth factors and proteins in the culture medium, which enhance neuron survival and stimulate neurite sprouting and extension. However, SC require long proliferation time to be used for tissue engineering applications and the sacrifice of an healthy nerve for their sourcing. Adipose-derived stem cells (ASC) differentiated into SC phenotype are a valid alternative to SC for the set-up of a co-culture model with DRG neurons to study nerve regeneration. The present work presents a detailed and reproducible step-by-step protocol to harvest both DRG neurons and ASC from adult rats; to differentiate ASC towards a SC phenotype; and combines the two cell types in a direct co-culture system to investigate the interplay between neurons and SC in the peripheral nervous system. This tool has great potential in the optimization of tissue-engineered constructs for peripheral nerve repair.
Neuroscience, Issue 96, Co-culture, neurons, stem cells, neurite outgrowth, peripheral nerve repair, cell-cell interaction
Visualizing Neuroblast Cytokinesis During C. elegans Embryogenesis
Institutions: Concordia University.
This protocol describes the use of fluorescence microscopy to image dividing cells within developing Caenorhabditis elegans
embryos. In particular, this protocol focuses on how to image dividing neuroblasts, which are found underneath the epidermal cells and may be important for epidermal morphogenesis. Tissue formation is crucial for metazoan development and relies on external cues from neighboring tissues. C. elegans
is an excellent model organism to study tissue morphogenesis in vivo
due to its transparency and simple organization, making its tissues easy to study via microscopy. Ventral enclosure is the process where the ventral surface of the embryo is covered by a single layer of epithelial cells. This event is thought to be facilitated by the underlying neuroblasts, which provide chemical guidance cues to mediate migration of the overlying epithelial cells. However, the neuroblasts are highly proliferative and also may act as a mechanical substrate for the ventral epidermal cells. Studies using this experimental protocol could uncover the importance of intercellular communication during tissue formation, and could be used to reveal the roles of genes involved in cell division within developing tissues.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, C. elegans, morphogenesis, cytokinesis, neuroblasts, anillin, microscopy, cell division
Preparation of Primary Myogenic Precursor Cell/Myoblast Cultures from Basal Vertebrate Lineages
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham, INRA UR1067, INRA UR1037.
Due to the inherent difficulty and time involved with studying the myogenic program in vivo
, primary culture systems derived from the resident adult stem cells of skeletal muscle, the myogenic precursor cells (MPCs), have proven indispensible to our understanding of mammalian skeletal muscle development and growth. Particularly among the basal taxa of Vertebrata,
however, data are limited describing the molecular mechanisms controlling the self-renewal, proliferation, and differentiation of MPCs. Of particular interest are potential mechanisms that underlie the ability of basal vertebrates to undergo considerable postlarval skeletal myofiber hyperplasia (i.e.
teleost fish) and full regeneration following appendage loss (i.e.
urodele amphibians). Additionally, the use of cultured myoblasts could aid in the understanding of regeneration and the recapitulation of the myogenic program and the differences between them. To this end, we describe in detail a robust and efficient protocol (and variations therein) for isolating and maintaining MPCs and their progeny, myoblasts and immature myotubes, in cell culture as a platform for understanding the evolution of the myogenic program, beginning with the more basal vertebrates. Capitalizing on the model organism status of the zebrafish (Danio rerio
), we report on the application of this protocol to small fishes of the cyprinid clade Danioninae
. In tandem, this protocol can be utilized to realize a broader comparative approach by isolating MPCs from the Mexican axolotl (Ambystomamexicanum
) and even laboratory rodents. This protocol is now widely used in studying myogenesis in several fish species, including rainbow trout, salmon, and sea bream1-4
Basic Protocol, Issue 86, myogenesis, zebrafish, myoblast, cell culture, giant danio, moustached danio, myotubes, proliferation, differentiation, Danioninae, axolotl
In Vitro Pancreas Organogenesis from Dispersed Mouse Embryonic Progenitors
Institutions: Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research, University of Copenhagen.
The pancreas is an essential organ that regulates glucose homeostasis and secretes digestive enzymes. Research on pancreas embryogenesis has led to the development of protocols to produce pancreatic cells from stem cells 1
. The whole embryonic organ can be cultured at multiple stages of development 2-4
. These culture methods have been useful to test drugs and to image developmental processes. However the expansion of the organ is very limited and morphogenesis is not faithfully recapitulated since the organ flattens.
We propose three-dimensional (3D) culture conditions that enable the efficient expansion of dissociated mouse embryonic pancreatic progenitors. By manipulating the composition of the culture medium it is possible to generate either hollow spheres, mainly composed of pancreatic progenitors expanding in their initial state, or, complex organoids which progress to more mature expanding progenitors and differentiate into endocrine, acinar and ductal cells and which spontaneously self-organize to resemble the embryonic pancreas.
We show here that the in vitro
process recapitulates many aspects of natural pancreas development. This culture system is suitable to investigate how cells cooperate to form an organ by reducing its initial complexity to few progenitors. It is a model that reproduces the 3D architecture of the pancreas and that is therefore useful to study morphogenesis, including polarization of epithelial structures and branching. It is also appropriate to assess the response to mechanical cues of the niche such as stiffness and the effects on cell´s tensegrity.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, Pancreas, Progenitors, Branching Epithelium, Development, Organ Culture, 3D Culture, Diabetes, Differentiation, Morphogenesis, Cell organization, Beta Cell.
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Construction and Characterization of a Novel Vocal Fold Bioreactor
Institutions: University of Delaware, University of Delaware.
engineering of mechanically active tissues requires the presentation of physiologically relevant mechanical conditions to cultured cells. To emulate the dynamic environment of vocal folds, a novel vocal fold bioreactor capable of producing vibratory stimulations at fundamental phonation frequencies is constructed and characterized. The device is composed of a function generator, a power amplifier, a speaker selector and parallel vibration chambers. Individual vibration chambers are created by sandwiching a custom-made silicone membrane between a pair of acrylic blocks. The silicone membrane not only serves as the bottom of the chamber but also provides a mechanism for securing the cell-laden scaffold. Vibration signals, generated by a speaker mounted underneath the bottom acrylic block, are transmitted to the membrane aerodynamically by the oscillating air. Eight identical vibration modules, fixed on two stationary metal bars, are housed in an anti-humidity chamber for long-term operation in a cell culture incubator. The vibration characteristics of the vocal fold bioreactor are analyzed non-destructively using a Laser Doppler Vibrometer (LDV). The utility of the dynamic culture device is demonstrated by culturing cellular constructs in the presence of 200-Hz sinusoidal vibrations with a mid-membrane displacement of 40 µm. Mesenchymal stem cells cultured in the bioreactor respond to the vibratory signals by altering the synthesis and degradation of vocal fold-relevant, extracellular matrix components. The novel bioreactor system presented herein offers an excellent in vitro
platform for studying vibration-induced mechanotransduction and for the engineering of functional vocal fold tissues.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, vocal fold; bioreactor; speaker; silicone membrane; fibrous scaffold; mesenchymal stem cells; vibration; extracellular matrix
Sandwich-like Microenvironments to Harness Cell/Material Interactions
Institutions: Universitat Politècnica de València, University of Glasgow, Biomedical Research Networking Center in Bioengineering, Biomaterials and Nanomedicine (CIBER-BBN).
Cell culture has been traditionally carried out on bi-dimensional (2D) substrates where cells adhere using ventral receptors to the biomaterial surface. However in vivo
, most of the cells are completely surrounded by the extracellular matrix (ECM),
resulting in a three-dimensional (3D) distribution of receptors. This may trigger differences in the outside-in signaling pathways and thus in cell behavior.
This article shows that stimulating the dorsal receptors of cells already adhered to a 2D substrate by overlaying a film of a new material (a sandwich-like culture) triggers important changes with respect to standard 2D cultures. Furthermore, the simultaneous excitation of ventral and dorsal receptors shifts cell behavior closer to that found in 3D environments. Additionally, due to the nature of the system, a sandwich-like culture is a versatile tool that allows the study of different parameters in cell/material interactions, e.g.
, topography, stiffness and different protein coatings at both the ventral and dorsal sides. Finally, since sandwich-like cultures are based on 2D substrates, several analysis procedures already developed for standard 2D cultures can be used normally, overcoming more complex procedures needed for 3D systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 102, Sandwich culture, 3D culture, cell culture, physiological, cellular environment, bioengineering
Magnetic Resonance Elastography Methodology for the Evaluation of Tissue Engineered Construct Growth
Institutions: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Traditional mechanical testing often results in the destruction of the sample, and in the case of long term tissue engineered construct studies, the use of destructive assessment is not acceptable. A proposed alternative is the use of an imaging process called magnetic resonance elastography. Elastography is a nondestructive method for determining the engineered outcome by measuring local mechanical property values (i.e., complex shear modulus), which are essential markers for identifying the structure and functionality of a tissue. As a noninvasive means for evaluation, the monitoring of engineered constructs with imaging modalities such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has seen increasing interest in the past decade1
. For example, the magnetic resonance (MR) techniques of diffusion and relaxometry have been able to characterize the changes in chemical and physical properties during engineered tissue development2
. The method proposed in the following protocol uses microscopic magnetic resonance elastography (μMRE) as a noninvasive MR based technique for measuring the mechanical properties of small soft tissues3
. MRE is achieved by coupling a sonic mechanical actuator with the tissue of interest and recording the shear wave propagation with an MR scanner4
. Recently, μMRE has been applied in tissue engineering to acquire essential growth information that is traditionally measured using destructive mechanical macroscopic techniques5
. In the following procedure, elastography is achieved through the imaging of engineered constructs with a modified Hahn spin-echo sequence coupled with a mechanical actuator. As shown in Figure 1, the modified sequence synchronizes image acquisition with the transmission of external shear waves; subsequently, the motion is sensitized through the use of oscillating bipolar pairs. Following collection of images with positive and negative motion sensitization, complex division of the data produce a shear wave image. Then, the image is assessed using an inversion algorithm to generate a shear stiffness map6
. The resulting measurements at each voxel have been shown to strongly correlate (R2
>0.9914) with data collected using dynamic mechanical analysis7
. In this study, elastography is integrated into the tissue development process for monitoring human mesenchymal stem cell (h
MSC) differentiation into adipogenic and osteogenic constructs as shown in Figure 2.
Bioengineering, Issue 60, mesenchymal stem cells, tissue engineering (TE), regenerative medicine, adipose TE, magnetic resonance elastography (MRE), biomechanics, elasticity
Isolation of Primary Human Colon Tumor Cells from Surgical Tissues and Culturing Them Directly on Soft Elastic Substrates for Traction Cytometry
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Provena Covenant Medical Centre, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Cancer cells respond to matrix mechanical stiffness in a complex manner using a coordinated, hierarchical mechano-chemical system composed of adhesion receptors and associated signal transduction membrane proteins, the cytoskeletal architecture, and molecular motors1, 2
. Mechanosensitivity of different cancer cells in vitro
are investigated primarily with immortalized cell lines or murine derived primary cells, not with primary human cancer cells. Hence, little is known about the mechanosensitivity of primary human colon cancer cells in vitro
. Here, an optimized protocol is developed that describes the isolation of primary human colon cells from healthy and cancerous surgical human tissue samples. Isolated colon cells are then successfully cultured on soft (2 kPa stiffness) and stiff (10 kPa stiffness) polyacrylamide hydrogels and rigid polystyrene (~3.6 GPa stiffness) substrates functionalized by an extracellular matrix (fibronectin in this case). Fluorescent microbeads are embedded in soft gels near the cell culture surface, and traction assay is performed to assess cellular contractile stresses using free open access software. In addition, immunofluorescence microscopy on different stiffness substrates provides useful information about primary cell morphology, cytoskeleton organization and vinculin containing focal adhesions as a function of substrate rigidity.
Bioengineering, Issue 100, Primary human colon tumor cells, Soft Elastic Substrates, Traction force Microscopy, Mechanobiology, Immunofluorescence Microscopy, Cell mechanics
Measuring the Mechanical Properties of Living Cells Using Atomic Force Microscopy
Institutions: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Mechanical properties of cells and extracellular matrix (ECM) play important roles in many biological processes including stem cell differentiation, tumor formation, and wound healing. Changes in stiffness of cells and ECM are often signs of changes in cell physiology or diseases in tissues. Hence, cell stiffness is an index to evaluate the status of cell cultures. Among the multitude of methods applied to measure the stiffness of cells and tissues, micro-indentation using an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) provides a way to reliably measure the stiffness of living cells. This method has been widely applied to characterize the micro-scale stiffness for a variety of materials ranging from metal surfaces to soft biological tissues and cells. The basic principle of this method is to indent a cell with an AFM tip of selected geometry and measure the applied force from the bending of the AFM cantilever. Fitting the force-indentation curve to the Hertz model for the corresponding tip geometry can give quantitative measurements of material stiffness. This paper demonstrates the procedure to characterize the stiffness of living cells using AFM. Key steps including the process of AFM calibration, force-curve acquisition, and data analysis using a MATLAB routine are demonstrated. Limitations of this method are also discussed.
Biophysics, Issue 76, Bioengineering, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Physics, Chemical Engineering, Biomechanics, bioengineering (general), AFM, cell stiffness, microindentation, force spectroscopy, atomic force microscopy, microscopy
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 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
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
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
Simple Polyacrylamide-based Multiwell Stiffness Assay for the Study of Stiffness-dependent Cell Responses
Institutions: Saint Louis University.
Currently, most of the in vitro
cell research is performed on rigid tissue culture polystyrene (~1 GPa), while most cells in the body are attached to a matrix that is elastic and much softer (0.1 – 100 kPa). Since such stiffness mismatch greatly affects cell responses, there is a strong interest in developing hydrogel materials that span a wide range of stiffness to serve as cell substrates. Polyacrylamide gels, which are inexpensive and cover the stiffness range of all soft tissues in the body, are the hydrogel of choice for many research groups. However, polyacrylamide gel preparation is lengthy, tedious, and only suitable for small batches. Here, we describe an assay which by utilizing a permanent flexible plastic film as a structural support for the gels, enables the preparation of polyacrylamide gels in a multiwell plate format. The technique is faster, more efficient, and less costly than current methods and permits the preparation of gels of custom sizes not otherwise available. As it doesn’t require any specialized equipment, the method could be easily adopted by any research laboratory and would be particularly useful in research focused on understanding stiffness-dependent cell responses.
Bioengineering, Issue 97, Multiwell, substrate stiffness, drug screening, polyacrylamide, Young’s modulus, high-throughput
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
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
Electric Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing for the Quantification of Endothelial Proliferation, Barrier Function, and Motility
Institutions: Institute for Cardiovascular Research, VU University Medical Center, Institute for Cardiovascular Research, VU University Medical Center.
Electric Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing (ECIS) is an in vitro
impedance measuring system to quantify the behavior of cells within adherent cell layers. To this end, cells are grown in special culture chambers on top of opposing, circular gold electrodes. A constant small alternating current is applied between the electrodes and the potential across is measured. The insulating properties of the cell membrane create a resistance towards the electrical current flow resulting in an increased electrical potential between the electrodes. Measuring cellular impedance in this manner allows the automated study of cell attachment, growth, morphology, function, and motility. Although the ECIS measurement itself is straightforward and easy to learn, the underlying theory is complex and selection of the right settings and correct analysis and interpretation of the data is not self-evident. Yet, a clear protocol describing the individual steps from the experimental design to preparation, realization, and analysis of the experiment is not available. In this article the basic measurement principle as well as possible applications, experimental considerations, advantages and limitations of the ECIS system are discussed. A guide is provided for the study of cell attachment, spreading and proliferation; quantification of cell behavior in a confluent layer, with regard to barrier function, cell motility, quality of cell-cell and cell-substrate adhesions; and quantification of wound healing and cellular responses to vasoactive stimuli. Representative results are discussed based on human microvascular (MVEC) and human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC), but are applicable to all adherent growing cells.
Bioengineering, Issue 85, ECIS, Impedance Spectroscopy, Resistance, TEER, Endothelial Barrier, Cell Adhesions, Focal Adhesions, Proliferation, Migration, Motility, Wound Healing