Human epithelial cells increase their rigidity with ageing in vitro: direct measurements

Phys Med Biol. 2005 Jan 7;50(1):81-92. doi: 10.1088/0031-9155/50/1/007.


The decrease in elasticity of epithelial tissues with ageing contributes to many human diseases. This change was previously attributed to increased crosslinking of extracellular matrix proteins. Here we show that individual human epithelial cells also become significantly more rigid during ageing in vitro. Using atomic force microscopy (AFM), we found that the Young's modulus of viable cells was consistently increased two- to four-fold in older versus younger cells. Direct visualization of the cytoskeleton using a novel method involving the AFM suggested that increased rigidity of ageing cells was due to a higher density of cytoskeletal fibres. Our results identify a unique mechanism that might contribute to the age-related loss of elasticity in epithelial tissues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Cell Shape
  • Cell Size
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cross-Linking Reagents / pharmacology
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Cytoskeleton / pathology
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology*
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force / methods*
  • Microscopy, Phase-Contrast
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Time Factors


  • Cross-Linking Reagents