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Cytometry A. 2004 Jun;59(2):203-9.

Deformability-based flow cytometry.

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Institute for Soft Matter Physics, University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany.



Elasticity of cells is determined by their cytoskeleton. Changes in cellular function are reflected in the amount of cytoskeletal proteins and their associated networks. Drastic examples are diseases such as cancer, in which the altered cytoskeleton is even diagnostic. This connection between cellular function and cytoskeletal mechanical properties suggests using the deformability of cells as a novel inherent cell marker.


The optical stretcher is a new laser tool capable of measuring cellular deformability. A unique feature of this deformation technique is its potential for high throughput, with the incorporation of a microfluidic delivery of cells.


Rudimentary implementation of the microfluidic optical stretcher has been used to measure optical deformability of several normal and cancerous cell types. A drastic difference has been seen between the response of red blood cells and polymorphonuclear cells for a given optically induced stress. MCF-10, MCF-7, and modMCF-7 cells were also measured, showing that while cancer cells stretched significantly more (five times) than normal cells, optical deformability could even be used to distinguish metastatic cancer cells from nonmetastatic cancer cells. This trimodal distribution was apparent after measuring a mere 83 cells, which shows optical deformability to be a highly regulated cell marker.


Preliminary work suggests a deformability-based cell sorter similar to current fluorescence-based flow cytometry without the need for specific labeling. This could be used for the diagnosis of all diseases, and the investigation of all cellular processes, that affect the cytoskeleton.

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