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Biophys J. 2002 Dec;83(6):3162-76.

Micromechanical mapping of live cells by multiple-particle-tracking microrheology.

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Department of Chemical Engineering, The Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.


This paper introduces the method of live-cell multiple-particle-tracking microrheology (MPTM), which quantifies the local mechanical properties of living cells by monitoring the Brownian motion of individual microinjected fluorescent particles. Particle tracking of carboxylated microspheres imbedded in the cytoplasm produce spatial distributions of cytoplasmic compliances and frequency-dependent viscoelastic moduli. Swiss 3T3 fibroblasts are found to behave like a stiff elastic material when subjected to high rates of deformations and like a soft liquid at low rates of deformations. By analyzing the relative contributions of the subcellular compliances to the mean compliance, we find that the cytoplasm is much more mechanically heterogeneous than reconstituted actin filament networks. Carboxylated microspheres embedded in cytoplasm through endocytosis and amine-modified polystyrene microspheres, which are microinjected or endocytosed, often show directed motion and strong nonspecific interactions with cytoplasmic proteins, which prevents computation of local moduli from the microsphere displacements. Using MPTM, we investigate the mechanical function of alpha-actinin in non-muscle cells: alpha-actinin-microinjected cells are stiffer and yet mechanically more heterogeneous than control cells, in agreement with models of reconstituted cross-linked actin filament networks. MPTM is a new type of functional microscopy that can test the local, rate-dependent mechanical and ultrastructural properties of living cells.

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