Glyphosate-induced stiffening of HaCaT keratinocytes, a Peak Force Tapping study on living cells

J Struct Biol. 2012 Apr;178(1):1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2012.02.007. Epub 2012 Feb 17.


The skin is the first physiological barrier, with a complex constitution, that provides defensive functions against multiple physical and chemical aggressions. Glyphosate is an extensively used herbicide that has been shown to increase the risk of cancer. Moreover there is increasing evidence suggesting that the mechanical phenotype plays an important role in malignant transformation. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) has emerged within the last decade as a powerful tool for providing a nanometer-scale resolution imaging of biological samples. Peak Force Tapping (PFT) is a newly released AFM-based investigation technique allowing extraction of chemical and mechanical properties from a wide range of samples at a relatively high speed and a high resolution. The present work uses the PFT technology to investigate HaCaT keratinocytes, a human epidermal cell line, and offers an original approach to study chemically-induced changes in the cellular mechanical properties under near-physiological conditions. These experiments indicate glyphosate induces cell membrane stiffening, and the appearance of cytoskeleton structures at a subcellular level, for low cytotoxic concentrations whereas cells exposed to IC50 (inhibitory concentration 50%) treatment exhibit control-like mechanical behavior despite obvious membrane damages. Quercetin, a well-known antioxidant, reverses the glyphosate-induced mechanical phenotype.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects*
  • Cell Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Cytoskeleton / drug effects
  • Epidermis / drug effects
  • Epidermis / ultrastructure
  • Glycine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Glycine / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Keratinocytes / drug effects*
  • Keratinocytes / metabolism
  • Keratinocytes / ultrastructure*
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force / methods*
  • Quercetin / pharmacology


  • glyphosate
  • Quercetin
  • Glycine