Traction Force Microscopy in 3-Dimensional Extracellular Matrix Networks

Curr Protoc Cell Biol. 2017 Jun 19:75:10.22.1-10.22.20. doi: 10.1002/cpcb.24.


Cell migration through a three-dimensional (3-D) matrix depends strongly on the ability of cells to generate traction forces. To overcome the steric hindrance of the matrix, cells need to generate sufficiently high traction forces but also need to distribute these forces spatially in a migration-promoting way. This unit describes a protocol to measure spatial maps of cell traction forces in 3-D biopolymer networks such as collagen, fibrin, or Matrigel. Traction forces are computed from the relationship between measured force-induced matrix deformations surrounding the cell and the known mechanical properties of the matrix. The method does not rely on knowledge of the cell surface coordinates and takes nonlinear mechanical properties of the matrix into account. © 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Keywords: 3-D cell traction forces; biopolymer networks; finite elements; traction force microscopy; unconstrained force reconstruction.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cattle
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement*
  • Collagen / chemistry
  • Drug Combinations
  • Extracellular Matrix / chemistry*
  • Fibrin / chemistry
  • Finite Element Analysis
  • Humans
  • Laminin / chemistry
  • Microscopy, Confocal / methods*
  • Proteoglycans / chemistry
  • Rats
  • Rheology


  • Drug Combinations
  • Laminin
  • Proteoglycans
  • matrigel
  • Fibrin
  • Collagen