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Biophys J. 2012 Sep 5;103(5):868-77.

Elasticity maps of living neurons measured by combined fluorescence and atomic force microscopy.

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Department of Physics and Astronomy, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA.


Detailed knowledge of mechanical parameters such as cell elasticity, stiffness of the growth substrate, or traction stresses generated during axonal extensions is essential for understanding the mechanisms that control neuronal growth. Here, we combine atomic force microscopy-based force spectroscopy with fluorescence microscopy to produce systematic, high-resolution elasticity maps for three different types of live neuronal cells: cortical (embryonic rat), embryonic chick dorsal root ganglion, and P-19 (mouse embryonic carcinoma stem cells) neurons. We measure how the stiffness of neurons changes both during neurite outgrowth and upon disruption of microtubules of the cell. We find reversible local stiffening of the cell during growth, and show that the increase in local elastic modulus is primarily due to the formation of microtubules. We also report that cortical and P-19 neurons have similar elasticity maps, with elastic moduli in the range 0.1-2 kPa, with typical average values of 0.4 kPa (P-19) and 0.2 kPa (cortical). In contrast, dorsal root ganglion neurons are stiffer than P-19 and cortical cells, yielding elastic moduli in the range 0.1-8 kPa, with typical average values of 0.9 kPa. Finally, we report no measurable influence of substrate protein coating on cell body elasticity for the three types of neurons.

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