Expansion Microscopy for Imaging the Cell-Material Interface

ACS Nano. 2022 May 24;16(5):7559-7571. doi: 10.1021/acsnano.1c11015. Epub 2022 May 9.


Surface topography on the scale of tens of nanometers to several micrometers substantially affects cell adhesion, migration, and differentiation. Recent studies using electron microscopy and super-resolution microscopy provide insight into how cells interact with surface nanotopography; however, the complex sample preparation and expensive imaging equipment required for these methods makes them not easily accessible. Expansion microscopy (ExM) is an affordable approach to image beyond the diffraction limit, but ExM cannot be readily applied to image the cell-material interface as most materials do not expand. Here, we develop a protocol that allows the use of ExM to resolve the cell-material interface with high resolution. We apply the technique to image the interface between U2OS cells and nanostructured substrates as well as the interface between primary osteoblasts with titanium dental implants. The high spatial resolution enabled by ExM reveals that although AP2 and F-actin both accumulate at curved membranes induced by vertical nanostructures, they are spatially segregated. Using ExM, we also reliably image how osteoblasts interact with roughened titanium implant surfaces below the diffraction limit; this is of great interest to understand osseointegration of the implants but has up to now been a significant technical challenge due to the irregular shape, the large volume, and the opacity of the titanium implants that have rendered them incompatible with other super-resolution techniques. We believe that our protocol will enable the use of ExM as a powerful tool for cell-material interface studies.

Keywords: cell−material interface; expansion microscopy; implant; membrane curvature; nano-bio interface; nanotopography.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Microscopy*
  • Osseointegration
  • Osteoblasts
  • Surface Properties
  • Titanium* / chemistry


  • Titanium