Traction force microscopy (TFM) is a method used to study the forces exerted by cells as they sense and interact with their environment. Cell forces play a role in processes that take place over a wide range of spatiotemporal scales, and so it is desirable that TFM makes use of imaging modalities that can effectively capture the dynamics associated with these processes. To date, confocal microscopy has been the imaging modality of choice to perform TFM in 3D settings, although multiple factors limit its spatiotemporal coverage. We propose traction force optical coherence microscopy (TF-OCM) as a novel technique that may offer enhanced spatial coverage and temporal sampling compared to current methods used for volumetric TFM studies. Reconstructed volumetric OCM data sets were used to compute time-lapse extracellular matrix deformations resulting from cell forces in 3D culture. These matrix deformations revealed clear differences that can be attributed to the dynamic forces exerted by normal versus contractility-inhibited NIH-3T3 fibroblasts embedded within 3D Matrigel matrices. Our results are the first step toward the realization of 3D TF-OCM, and they highlight the potential use of OCM as a platform for advancing cell mechanics research.
Keywords: (100.6950) Tomographic image processing; (170.1530) Cell analysis; (170.4500) Optical coherence tomography; (170.6900) Three-dimensional microscopy.