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Biophys J. 2000 Apr;78(4):1725-35.

Atomic force and total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy for the study of force transmission in endothelial cells.

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  • 1Center for Cellular and Biosurface Engineering, and Department of Biomedical Engineering, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708-0281, USA.


This paper describes the combined use of atomic force microscopy (AFM) and total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIRFM) to examine the transmission of force from the apical cell membrane to the basal cell membrane. A Bioscope AFM was mounted on an inverted microscope, the stage of which was configured for TIRFM imaging of fluorescently labeled human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs). Variable-angle TIRFM experiments were conducted to calibrate the coupling angle with the depth of penetration of the evanescent wave. A measure of cellular mechanical properties was obtained by collecting a set of force curves over the entire apical cell surface. A linear regression fit of the force-indentation curves to an elastic model yields an elastic modulus of 7.22 +/- 0. 46 kPa over the nucleus, 2.97 +/- 0.79 kPa over the cell body in proximity to the nucleus, and 1.27 +/- 0.36 kPa on the cell body near the edge. Stress transmission was investigated by imaging the response of the basal surface to localized force application over the apical surface. The focal contacts changed in position and contact area when forces of 0.3-0.5 nN were applied. There was a significant increase in focal contact area when the force was removed (p < 0.01) from the nucleus as compared to the contact area before force application. There was no significant change in focal contact coverage area before and after force application over the edge. The results suggest that cells transfer localized stress from the apical to the basal surface globally, resulting in rearrangement of contacts on the basal surface.

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