Tracking mechanics and volume of globular cells with atomic force microscopy using a constant-height clamp

Nat Protoc. 2012 Jan 5;7(1):143-54. doi: 10.1038/nprot.2011.434.


To understand the role of physical forces at a cellular level, it is necessary to track mechanical properties during cellular processes. Here we present a protocol that uses flat atomic force microscopy (AFM) cantilevers clamped at constant height, and light microscopy to measure the resistance force, mechanical stress and volume of globular animal cells under compression. We describe the AFM and cantilever setup, live cell culture in the AFM, how to ensure stability of AFM measurements during medium perfusion, integration of optical microscopy to measure parameters such as volume and track intracellular dynamics, and interpretation of the physical parameters measured. Although we use this protocol on trypsinized interphase and mitotic HeLa cells, it can also be applied to other cells with a relatively globular shape, especially animal cells in a low-adhesive environment. After a short setup phase, the protocol can be used to investigate approximately one cell per hour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cell Size
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force / instrumentation
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force / methods*
  • Mitosis