Atomic Force Microscopy micro-rheology reveals large structural inhomogeneities in single cell-nuclei

Sci Rep. 2017 Aug 14;7(1):8116. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-08517-6.


During growth, differentiation and migration of cells, the nucleus changes size and shape, while encountering forces generated by the cell itself and its environment. Although there is increasing evidence that such mechanical signals are employed to control gene expression, it remains unclear how mechanical forces are transduced through the nucleus. To this end, we have measured the compliance of nuclei by applying oscillatory strains between 1 and 700 Hz to individual nuclei of multiple mammalian cell-lines that were compressed between two plates. The quantitative response varied with more than one order of magnitude and scaled with the size of the nucleus. Surprisingly, the qualitative behaviour was conserved among different cell-lines: all nuclei showed a softer and more viscous response towards the periphery, suggesting a reduced degree of crosslinking of the chromatin. This may be an important feature to regulate transcription via mechano-transduction in this most active and dynamic region of the nucleus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Nucleus / physiology*
  • Chromatin / physiology
  • HEK293 Cells
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Mammals / physiology
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force / methods
  • Rheology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Transcription, Genetic / physiology


  • Chromatin