Mitochondrial displacements in response to nanomechanical forces

J Mol Recognit. Jan-Feb 2008;21(1):30-6. doi: 10.1002/jmr.868.


Mechanical stress affects and regulates many aspects of the cell, including morphology, growth, differentiation, gene expression and apoptosis. In this study we show how mechanical stress perturbs the intracellular structures of the cell and induces mechanical responses. In order to correlate mechanical perturbations to cellular responses, we used a combined fluorescence-atomic force microscope (AFM) to produce well defined nanomechanical perturbations of 10 nN while simultaneously tracking the real-time motion of fluorescently labelled mitochondria in live cells. The spatial displacement of the organelles in response to applied loads demonstrates the highly dynamic mechanical response of mitochondria in fibroblast cells. The average displacement of all mitochondrial structures analysed showed an increase of approximately 40%, post-perturbation ( approximately 160 nm in comparison to basal displacements of approximately 110 nm). These results show that local forces can produce organelle displacements at locations far from the initial point of contact (up to approximately 40 microm). In order to examine the role of the cytoskeleton in force transmission and its effect on mitochondrial displacements, both the actin and microtubule cytoskeleton were disrupted using Cytochalasin D and Nocodazole, respectively. Our results show that there is no significant change in mitochondrial displacement following indentation after such treatments. These results demonstrate the role of the cytoskeleton in force transmission through the cell and on mitochondrial displacements. In addition, it is suggested that care must be taken when performing mechanical experiments on living cells with the AFM, as these local mechanical perturbations may have significant structural and even biochemical effects on the cell.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Cytochalasin D / pharmacology
  • Cytoskeleton / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force / methods*
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure
  • NIH 3T3 Cells
  • Nanotechnology / methods*
  • Nocodazole / pharmacology


  • Cytochalasin D
  • Nocodazole