Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Cell Culture
Scientific Community
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

May the Cellular Force be With You

Published: Friday, December 13, 2013
Last Updated: Friday, December 13, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Like tiny construction workers, cells sculpt embryonic tissues and organs in 3D space.

This task is complicated and requires constant communication between cells to coordinate their actions and generate the forces that will shape their environment into complex tissue morphologies.

Biologists have long studied the communication between cells and their behavior while building these structures, but until now, it had not been possible to see the forces cells generate to shape them. A new method to quantify the mechanical forces that cells exert while building tissues and organs can help answer long unresolved questions in biology and provide new diagnostic tools for medicine.

Developed initially in the Wyss Institute at Harvard University by Otger Campàs and Donald Ingber, this technique is the first of its kind to measure the mechanical forces that cells generate in living embryos. Now an assistant professor who holds the Mellichamp Chair in Systems Biology at UC Santa Barbara, Campàs leads a lab that is developing this droplet technique in several new directions, and applying it to discover the patterns of cellular forces that shape embryonic structures in fish and chicken.

“There is a lot of interest in understanding how genetics and mechanics interplay to shape embryonic tissues,” said Campàs. “I believe this technique will help many scientists explore the role that mechanical forces play in morphogenesis and, more generally, in biology.”

So far, the vast majority of knowledge on how cellular forces affect cell behavior has come from cells studied in vitro — through cultures that isolate cells from their natural environment. Using soft gel substrates or gel matrices, researchers have been able to measure the traction forces of these cells moving in a petri dish. However, almost nothing is known about the forces that cells generate while sculpting embryonic tissues and organs, and how these affect cell behavior in their natural environment.

“In general, cells behave in a different way inside an embryo than in a dish,” Campàs said. Some behaviors may be similar, but many others are not. Depending on the environment, cells respond in a variety of ways, he added.

“It has not been possible to demonstrate a direct causal relationship between mechanics and behavior in vivo because we previously had no way to directly quantify force levels at specific locations in 3D living tissues,” said Donald Ingber, director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. “This method now allows us to make these measurements, and I hope it will bring mechanobiology to a new level.”

To measure these miniscule forces, Campàs and Ingber, used tiny droplets of a special, flour-based oil. Once stabilized and with controlled surface tension, the droplet’s surface chemistry is modified to allow for the adhesion of living cells. It is also fluorescently labeled to allow observers to see its shape. When cells push and pull on an oil droplet, they deform it, and this deformation provides a direct read-out of the forces they exert.

Using this technique, Campàs and Ingber showed that it is possible to measure cellular forces in different conditions, such as 3D cellular aggregates or in living mouse mandibles. Research findings for this work are published in the advance online version of the journal Nature Methods.

This method can help answer questions that biologists have been trying to answer for decades: What are the forces that cells generate to sculpt embryonic tissues and organs? And how do these forces affect cell behavior and gene expression in the cell’s natural environment, the living embryo?

“Understanding how cells shape embryonic structures requires measuring the patterns of cellular forces while the structure is being built,” said Campàs. “If you take the cells out of the embryo and put them in a dish, you don’t have the tissue or organ structure anymore.”

The knowledge gained by the ability to observe the behavior of developing cells as they mature could lead to further knowledge regarding a wide variety of conditions including birth defects or tumor growth and metastasis. Moreover, this method can also provide insight into diseases in which imbalances in forces exerted by tissues’ constituent cells are an issue, according to Ingber.

“Examples include hyper contractility in airway smooth muscle cells in asthma; vascular smooth muscle cells in hypertension; intestinal smooth muscle in irritable bowel disease; skin connective tissue cells in contractures and scars, etc. as well as low contractility in heart muscle cells in heart failure, and so on,” said Ingber. Investigating the forces behind tissue stiffness and contractility may also aid the diagnosis of tissue abnormalities.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Artificial Kidney Research Gets A Boost
Development of a surgically implantable, artificial kidney — a promising alternative to kidney transplantation or dialysis for people with end-stage kidney disease — has received a $6 million boost.
Monday, November 09, 2015
Growing Spinal Disc Tissue
Scientists develop new method for growing spinal disc tissue in the lab for combating chronic back pain.
Friday, July 03, 2015
Understanding a Protein’s Role in Familial Alzheimer’s
Researchers have used genetic engineering of human iPSC’s to specifically and precisely parse the roles of a key mutated protein in causing familial Alzheimer's disease (AD).
Monday, November 18, 2013
Developmental Protein Plays Role in Spread of Cancer
A protein used by embryo cells during early development, and recently found in many different types of cancer, apparently serves as a switch regulating metastasis.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Nobel Prize Winner Yamanaka Remains at Forefront of Fast-Moving Stem Cell Field
Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD, named winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, said he was doing some housecleaning when the call came in, and was “very surprised.”
Friday, October 12, 2012
Well-known Protein Reveals New Tricks
A protein called "clathrin," which is found in every human cell and plays a critical role in transporting materials within them, also plays a key role in cell division.
Friday, September 07, 2012
Protein Build-up Leads to Neurons Misfiring
New evidence shows that alpha-synuclein protein build-up inside neurons causes them to not only become "leaky," but also to misfire due to calcium fluxes.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Scientific News
Novel Tumor Treatment
In the first published results from a $386,000 National Cancer Institute grant awarded earlier this year, a paper by Scott Verbridge and Rafael Davalos has been published.
Personalized Drug Screening for Multiple Myeloma Patients
A personalized method for testing the effectiveness of drugs that treat multiple myeloma may predict quickly and more accurately the best treatments for individual patients with the bone marrow cancer.
Cancer-Fighting Tomato Component Traced
The metabolic pathway associated with lycopene, the bioactive red pigment found in tomatoes, has been traced by researchers at the University of Illinois.
Some Gut Microbes May Be Keystones of Health
University of Oregon scientists have found that strength in numbers doesn’t hold true for microbes in the intestines. A minority population of the right type might hold the key to regulating good health.
The Life Story of Stem Cells
A model analyses the development of stem cell numbers in the human body.
Novel Stem Cell Line Avoids Risk of Introducing Transplanted Tumors
Progenitor cells might eventually be used to repair or rebuild damaged or destroyed organs.
Tissue Engineers Recruit Cells to Make Their Own Strong Matrix
Extracellular matrix is the material that gives tissues their strength and stretch. It’s been hard to make well in the lab, but a Brown University team reports new success. The key was creating a culture environment that guided cells to make ECM themselves.
Towards Patient-Specific Drug Screening
A new breakthrough by the 3D stem cell printing team at Heriot-Watt could pave the way to individually tailored drug testing regimes, both reducing the need for animal testing and ensuring that patients receive drugs which are most effective for their individual needs.
Artificial Kidney Research Gets A Boost
Development of a surgically implantable, artificial kidney — a promising alternative to kidney transplantation or dialysis for people with end-stage kidney disease — has received a $6 million boost.
Improving the Efficiency of Red Blood Cell Production
Study points to way of significantly reducing cost of laboratory-produced cells.

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos