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Biophys J. 2006 Apr 15;90(8):2994-3003. Epub 2006 Jan 27.

Force microscopy of nonadherent cells: a comparison of leukemia cell deformability.

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Department of Bioengineering, University of California Berkeley and University of California San Francisco/University of California Berkeley Joint Graduate Group in Bioengineering, Berkeley, USA.


Atomic force microscopy (AFM) has become an important tool for quantifying mechanical properties of biological materials ranging from single molecules to cells and tissues. Current AFM techniques for measuring elastic and viscoelastic properties of whole cells are based on indentation of cells firmly adhered to a substrate, but these techniques are not appropriate for probing nonadherent cells, such as passive human leukocytes, due to a lateral instability of the cells under load. Here we present a method for characterizing nonadherent cells with AFM by mechanically immobilizing them in microfabricated wells. We apply this technique to compare the deformability of human myeloid and lymphoid leukemia cells and neutrophils at low deformation rates, and we find that the cells are well described by an elastic model based on Hertzian mechanics. Myeloid (HL60) cells were measured to be a factor of 18 times stiffer than lymphoid (Jurkat) cells and six times stiffer than human neutrophils on average (E(infinity) = 855 +/- 670 Pa for HL60 cells, E(infinity) = 48 +/- 35 Pa for Jurkat cells, E(infinity) = 156 +/- 87 for neutrophils, mean +/- SD). This work demonstrates a simple method for extending AFM mechanical property measurements to nonadherent cells and characterizes properties of human leukemia cells that may contribute to leukostasis, a complication associated with acute leukemia.

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