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Cell Biochem Biophys. 2013 May;66(1):73-80. doi: 10.1007/s12013-012-9455-x.

Evaluation of stem cell-to-tenocyte differentiation by atomic force microscopy to measure cellular elastic moduli.

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  • 1Department of Mechanical Science & Engineering, Graduate School of Engineering, Nagoya University, Furo-cho, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya, 464-8603, Japan.


In the present study, we evaluated whether stem cell-to-tenocyte differentiation could be evaluated via measurement of the mechanical properties of the cell. We used mechanical uniaxial cyclic stretching to induce the differentiation of human bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells into tenocytes. The cells were subjected to cyclic elongation of 10 or 15 % at a cyclic frequency of 1 Hz for 24 or 48 h, and differentiation was assessed by real-time PCR (rtPCR) determination of messenger RNA expression levels for four commonly used markers of stem cell-to-tenocyte differentiation: type I collagen, type III collagen, tenascin-C, and scleraxis. The rtPCR results showed that cells subjected to 10 % cyclic elongation for 24 or 48 h differentiated into tenocytes. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) was then used to measure the force curves around the cell nuclei, and the AFM data were used to calculate the elastic moduli of the cell surfaces. The elastic modulus values of the control (non-stretched) cells differed significantly from those of cells stretched at 10 % for 24 or 48 h (P < 0.01). Confocal fluorescence microscopic observations of actin stress fibers suggested that the change in elastic modulus was ascribable to the development of the cellular cytoskeleton during the differentiation process. Therefore, we conclude that the atomic force microscopic measurement of the elastic modulus of the cell surface can be used to evaluate stem cell-to-tenocyte differentiation.

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