Cell tracing dyes significantly change single cell mechanics

J Phys Chem B. 2009 May 7;113(18):6511-9. doi: 10.1021/jp8103358.


Cell tracing dyes are very frequently utilized in cellular biology research because they provide highly sensitive fluorescent tags that do not compromise cellular functions such as growth and proliferation. In many investigations concerning cellular adhesion and mechanics, fluorescent dyes have been employed with the assumption of little impact on the results. Using the single cell compression technique developed by our team, the single cell mechanics of MDA-MB-468 and MLC-SV40 cells were investigated as a function of dye uptake. Cell tracing dyes increase living cell stiffness 3-6 times and cell-to-probe adhesion up to 7 times. These results suggest a more significant effect than toxins, such as thrombin. A simple analytical model was derived to enable the extraction of the Young's moduli of the cell membrane and cytoskeleton from the force-deformation profiles measured for individual cells. The increase in Young's modulus of the membrane is 3-7 times, which is more significant than that of the cytoskeleton (1.1-3.4 times). We propose that changes in cell mechanics upon the addition of fluorescent tracing dye are primarily due to the incorporation of amphiphilic dye molecules into the cellular plasma membrane, which increases the lateral interaction among phospholipid chains and thus enhances their rigidity and adhesion.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Fluoresceins / chemistry*
  • Fluorescent Dyes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Succinimides / chemistry*


  • 5-(6)-carboxyfluorescein diacetate succinimidyl ester
  • Fluoresceins
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Succinimides
  • calcein green