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Biophys J. 1994 Aug;67(2):696-705.

Role of the membrane cortex in neutrophil deformation in small pipets.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708-0300.


The simplest model for a neutrophil in its "passive" state views the cell as consisting of a liquid-like cytoplasmic region surrounded by a membrane. The cell surface is in a state of isotropic contraction, which causes the cell to assume a spherical shape. This contraction is characterized by the cortical tension. The cortical tension shows a weak area dilation dependence, and it determines the elastic properties of the cell for small curvature deformations. At high curvature deformations in small pipets (with internal radii less than 1 micron), the measured critical suction pressure for cell flow into the pipet is larger than its estimate from the law of Laplace. A model is proposed where the region consisting of the cytoplasm membrane and the underlying cortex (having a finite thickness) is introduced at the cell surface. The mechanical properties of this region are characterized by the apparent cortical tension (defined as a free contraction energy per unit area) and the apparent bending modulus (introduced as a bending free energy per unit area) of its middle plane. The model predicts that for small curvature deformations (in pipets having radii larger than 1.2 microns) the role of the cortical thickness and the resistance for bending of the membrane-cortex complex is negligible. For high curvature deformations, they lead to elevated suction pressures above the values predicted from the law of Laplace. The existence of elevated suction pressures for pipets with radii from 1 micron down to 0.24 micron is found experimentally. The measured excess suction pressures cannot be explained only by the modified law of Laplace (for a cortex with finite thickness and negligible bending resistance), because it predicts unacceptable high cortical thicknesses (from 0.3 to 0.7 micron). It is concluded that the membrane-cortex complex has an apparent bending modulus from 1 x 10(-18) to 2 x 10(-18) J for a cortex with a thickness from 0.1 micron down to values much smaller than the radius of the smallest pipet (0.24 micron) used in this study.

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