Journal for Biophysical Chemistry

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Open Access

Direct assessment of living cell mechanical responses during deformation inside microchannel restrictions

  • Nadine Walter1,
  • Alexandre Micoulet2,
  • Thomas Seufferlein3 and
  • Joachim P. Spatz1

Received: 31 March 2011

Accepted: 22 July 2011


The deformation of suspended cells inside microchannel restrictions mimics passive cell transportation in the blood circulation system of the body. The cells traverse or get stuck in narrow vessels, as, e.g., during the metastasis of tumor cells. In this work, the mechanical responses of suspended pancreatic cancer cells as they move through and deform inside microchannel restrictions are assessed with a cantilever-based polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) force sensor. Incorporated into a flow cell chip, the PDMS cantilever is integrated into the boundary wall of a narrow microrestriction. Upon being forced to enter the restriction by an applied flow, the cell exerts pressure on the cantilever, which then bends. By assuming a uniformly loaded cantilever, the total force and pressure on the cantilever can be calculated using elastic beam theory. This technique has the advantage of presenting an absolute and direct measure, which is independent of the applied flow and frictional processes at the channel-cell interface; in contrast to, e.g., measuring cell mechanics indirectly via cell sliding velocities. Furthermore, a high number of cells can be examined in a short time compared to other single cell mechanical testing devices.