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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Imaging and manipulating the structural machinery of living cells on the micro- and nanoscale.

  • Author(s): Chown, Matthew G
  • Kumar, Sanjay
  • et al.
Abstract

The structure, physiology, and fate of living cells are all highly sensitive to mechanical forces in the cellular microenvironment, including stresses and strains that originate from encounters with the extracellular matrix (ECM), blood and other flowing materials, and neighbouring cells. This relationship between context and physiology bears tremendous implications for the design of cellular micro-or nanotechnologies, since any attempt to control cell behavior in a device must provide the appropriate physical microenvironment for the desired cell behavior. Cells sense, process, and respond to biophysical cues in their environment through a set of integrated, multi-scale structural complexes that span length scales from single molecules to tens of microns, including small clusters of force-sensing molecules at the cell surface, micron-sized cell-ECM focal adhesion complexes, and the cytoskeleton that permeates and defines the entire cell. This review focuses on several key technologies that have recently been developed or adapted for the study of the dynamics of structural micro-and nanosystems in living cells and how these systems contribute to spatially-and temporally-controlled changes in cellular structure and mechanics. We begin by discussing subcellular laser ablation, which permits the precise incision of nanoscale structural elements in living cells in order to discern their mechanical properties and contributions to cell structure. We then discuss fluorescence recovery after photobleaching and fluorescent speckle microscopy, two live-cell fluorescence imaging methods that enable quantitative measurement of the binding and transport properties of specific proteins in the cell. Finally, we discuss methods to manipulate cellular structural networks by engineering the extracellular environment, including microfabrication of ECM distributions of defined geometry and microdevices designed to measure cellular traction forces at micron-scale resolution. Together, these methods form a powerful arsenal that is already adding significantly to our understanding of the nanoscale architecture and mechanics of living cells and may contribute to the rational design of new cellular micro-and nanotechnologies.

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