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Nat Methods. 2016 Feb;13(2):171-6. doi: 10.1038/nmeth.3685. Epub 2015 Dec 7.

Three-dimensional force microscopy of cells in biopolymer networks.

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Department of Physics, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Erlangen, Germany.
Department of Biological Physics, Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Dresden, Germany.
Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA.


We describe a technique for the quantitative measurement of cell-generated forces in highly nonlinear three-dimensional biopolymer networks that mimic the physiological situation of living cells. We computed forces of MDA-MB-231 breast carcinoma cells from the measured network deformations around the cells using a finite-element approach based on a constitutive equation that captures the complex mechanical properties of diverse biopolymers such as collagen gels, fibrin gels and Matrigel. Our measurements show that breast carcinoma cells cultured in collagen gels generated nearly constant forces regardless of the collagen concentration and matrix stiffness. Furthermore, time-lapse force measurements showed that these cells migrated in a gliding motion with alternating phases of high and low contractility, elongation, migratory speed and persistence.

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