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Langmuir. 2005 Sep 27;21(20):9280-6.

Atomic force microscopy study of early morphological changes during apoptosis.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, and the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1055, USA.


Apoptosis is defined by a distinct set of morphological changes observed during cell death including loss of focal adhesions, the formation of cell membrane buds or blebs, and a decrease in total cell volume. Recent studies suggest that these dramatic morphological changes, particularly apoptotic volume decrease (AVD), are an early prerequisite to apoptosis and precede key biochemical time-points. Here we use atomic force microscopy to observe early stage AVD of KB cells undergoing staurosporine-induced apoptosis. After a 3-h exposure to 1 microM staurosporine, a 32% decrease in total cell height and a 50% loss of total cell volume is observed accompanied by only a 15% change in cell diameter. The observed AVD precedes key biochemical hallmarks of apoptosis such as loss of mitochondrial membrane potential, phosphatidyl serine translocation, nuclear fragmentation, and measurable caspase-3 activity. This suggests that morphological volume changes occur very early in the induction of apoptosis.

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