Probing the unseen structure and function of liver cells through atomic force microscopy

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2018 Jan:73:13-30. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2017.07.001. Epub 2017 Jul 6.


With the arrival of atomic force microscopy (AFM) about thirty years ago, this new imaging tool opened up a new area for the exploration of biological samples, ranging from the tissue and cellular level down to the supramolecular scale. Commercial instruments of this new imaging technique began to appear in the five years following its discovery in 1986 by Binnig, Quate & Gerber. From that point onwards the AFM has attracted many liver biologists, and the number of publications describing structure-function relationships on the diverse set of liver cells has grown steadily ever since. It is therefore timely to reflect on the achievements of AFM in disclosing the cellular architecture of hepatocytes, liver sinusoidal endothelial cells, Kupffer cells, stellate cells and liver-associated natural killer cells. In this thematic paper, we present new data and provide an in-depth overview of the current AFM literature on liver cell biology. We furthermore include a future outlook on how this scanning probe imaging tool and its latest developments can contribute to clarify various structural and functional aspects of cells in liver health and disease.

Keywords: Cell motility; Cell nanoscopy; Correlative microscopy; Cytoskeleton; Defenestration; Elasticity; Endothelial pores; Fenestrae; Fibroblasts; High-resolution imaging; Kupffer cells; Liver sieve; Macrophages; Natural killer cells; Phagocytosis; Probing cells; Scanning electron microscopy; Sinusoidal endothelium; Sinusoids; Stellate cells; Submembranous.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Endothelial Cells / chemistry
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Endothelial Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Hepatic Stellate Cells / chemistry
  • Hepatic Stellate Cells / metabolism*
  • Hepatic Stellate Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / chemistry
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism
  • Killer Cells, Natural / ultrastructure*
  • Kupffer Cells / chemistry
  • Kupffer Cells / metabolism*
  • Kupffer Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force*
  • Models, Structural
  • Structure-Activity Relationship