Researching Into the Cellular Shape, Volume and Elasticity of Mesenchymal Stem Cells, Osteoblasts and Osteosarcoma Cells by Atomic Force Microscopy

J Cell Mol Med. 2008 Apr;12(2):537-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1582-4934.2007.00138.x.


Within the bone lie several different cell types, including osteoblasts (OBs) and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). The MSCs are ideal targets for regenerative medicine of bone due to their differentiation potential towards OBs. Human MSCs exhibit two distinct morphologies: rapidly self-renewing cells (RS) and flat cells (FC) with very low proliferation rates. Another cell type found in pathological bone conditions is osteosarcoma. In this study, we compared the topographic and morphometric features of RS and FC cells, human OBs and MG63 osteosarcoma cells by atomic force microscopy (AFM). The results demonstrated clear differences: FC and hOB cells showed similar ruffled topography, whereas RS and MG63 cells exhibited smoother surfaces. Furthermore, we investigated how selected substrates influence cell morphometry. We found that RS and MG63 cells were flatter on fibrous substrates such as polystyrene and collagen I, but much more rounded on glass, the smoothest surface. In contrast, cells with large area, namely FC and hOB cells, did not exhibit pronounced changes in flatness with regards to the different substrates. They were, however, remarkably flatter in comparison to RS and MG63 cells. We could explain the differences in flatness by the extent of adhesion. Indeed, FC and hOB cells showed much higher content of focal adhesions. Finally, we used the AFM to determine the cellular Young's modulus. RS, FC and hOB cells showed comparable stiffness on the three different substrates, while MG63 cells demonstrated the unique feature of increased elasticity on collagen I. In summary, our results show, for the first time, a direct comparison between the morphometric and biophysical features of different human cell types derived from normal and pathological bone. Our study manifests the opinion that along with RNA, proteomic and functional research, morphological and biomechanical characterization of cells also reveals novel cell features and interrelationships.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Shape*
  • Cell Size*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Elasticity
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force*
  • Models, Biological
  • Osteoblasts / cytology*
  • Osteosarcoma / pathology*
  • Research*