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J Am Chem Soc. 2013 Apr 10;135(14):5320-3. doi: 10.1021/ja401494e. Epub 2013 Mar 26.

Tension sensing nanoparticles for mechano-imaging at the living/nonliving interface.

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Department of Chemistry, Emory University, 1515 Dickey Drive, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.


Studying chemomechanical coupling at interfaces is important for fields ranging from lubrication and tribology to microfluidics and cell biology. Several polymeric macro- and microscopic systems and cantilevers have been developed to image forces at interfaces, but few materials are amenable for molecular tension sensing. To address this issue, we have developed a gold nanoparticle sensor for molecular tension-based fluorescence microscopy. As a proof of concept, we imaged the tension exerted by integrin receptors at the interface between living cells and a substrate with high spatial (<1 μm) resolution, at 100 ms acquisition times and with molecular specificity. We report integrin tension values ranging from 1 to 15 pN and a mean of ~1 pN within focal adhesions. Through the use of a conventional fluorescence microscope, this method demonstrates a force sensitivity that is 3 orders of magnitude greater than is achievable by traction force microscopy or polydimethylsiloxane micropost arrays, which are the standard in cellular biomechanics.

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