Conference paper

Dielectric elastomer actuator for the measurement of cell traction forces with sub-cellular resolution

We report on the use of dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) to measure the traction force field of cells with subcellular resolution. The study of cellular electrochemical and mechanical response to deformation is an important area of research, as mechanotransduction has been shown to be linked with fundamental cell functions, or the progression of diseases such as cancer or atherosclerosis. Experimental cell mechanics is based on two fundamental concepts: the ability to measure cell stiffness, and to apply controlled strains to small clusters of cells. However, there is a lack of tools capable of applying precise deformation to a small cell population while being compatible with an inverted microscope (stable focal plane, transparency, compactness, etc.). Here, we use an anisotropically prestretched silicone-based DEA to deform a soft (7.6kPa) polyacrylamide gel on which the cells are cultured. An array of micro-dots of fluorescent fibronectin is transferred on the gel by micro-contact printing and serves as attachment points for the cells. In addition, the fluorescent dots (which have a diameter of 2 μm with a spacing of 6 μm) are used during the experiment to monitor the traction forces of a single cell (or small cluster of cells). The cell locally exerts traction on the gel, thus deforming the matrix of dots. The position of dots versus time is monitored live when the cells are submitted to a uniaxial strain step. Our deformable bioreactor enables the measurement of the local stiffness of cells submitted to mechanical strain, and is fully compatible with an inverted microscope set-up.

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