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Quantitative Characterization of 3D Deformations of Cell Interactions with Soft Biomaterials


Franck, Christian (2008) Quantitative Characterization of 3D Deformations of Cell Interactions with Soft Biomaterials. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/VMN5-SP86.


In recent years, the importance of mechanical forces in directing cellular function has been recognized as a significant factor in biological and physiological processes. In fact, these physical forces are now viewed equally as important as biochemical stimuli in controlling cellular response. Not only do these cellular forces, or cell tractions, play an important role in cell migration, they are also significant to many other physiological and pathological processes, both at the tissue and organ level, including wound healing, inflammation, angiogenesis, and embryogenesis. A complete quantification of cell tractions during cell-material interactions can lead to a deeper understanding of the fundamental role these forces play in cell biology. Thus, understanding the function and role of a cell from a mechanical framework can have important implications towards the development of new implant materials and drug treatments.

Previous research has contributed significant descriptions of cell-tissue interactions by quantifying cell tractions in two-dimensional environments; however, most physiological processes are three-dimensional in nature. Recent studies have shown morphological differences in cells cultured on two-dimensional substrates versus three-dimensional matrices, and that the intrinsic extracellular matrix interactions and migration behavior are different in three dimensions versus two dimensions. Hence, measurement techniques are needed to investigate cellular behavior in all three dimensions.

This thesis presents a full-field imaging technique capable of quantitatively measuring cell traction forces in all three spatial dimensions, and hence addresses the need of a three-dimensional quantitative imaging technique to gain insight into the fundamental role of physical forces in biological processes. The technique combines laser scanning confocal microscopy (LSCM) with digital volume correlation (DVC) to track the motion of fluorescent particles during cell-induced or externally applied deformations. This method is validated by comparing experimentally measured non-uniform deformation fields near hard and soft spherical inclusions under uniaxial compression with the corresponding analytical solution. Utilization of a newly developed computationally efficient stretch-correlation and deconvolution algorithm is shown to improve the overall measurement accuracy, in particular under large deformations.

Using this technique, the full three-dimensional substrate displacement fields are experimentally determined during the migration of individual fibroblast cells on polyacrylamide gels. This is the first study to show the highly three-dimensional structure of cell-induced displacement and traction fields. These new findings suggest a three-dimensional push-pull cell motility, which differs from the traditional theories based on two-dimensional data. These results provide new insight into the dynamic cell-matrix force exchange or mechanotransduction of migrating cells, and will aid in the development of new three-dimensional cell motility and adhesion models.

As this study reveals, the mechanical interactions of cells and their extracellular matrix appear to be highly three-dimensional. It also shows that the LSCM-DVC technique is well suited for investigating the mechanics of cell-matrix interactions while providing a platform to access detailed information of the intricate biomechanical coupling for many cellular responses. Thus, this method has the capability to provide direct quantitative experimental data showing how cells interact with their surroundings in three dimensions and might stimulate new avenues of scientific thought in understanding the fundamental role physical forces play in regulating cell behavior.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:3D deformations; cell traction forces; confocal microscopy; digital volume correlation
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Aeronautics
Awards:William F. Ballhaus Prize, 2008. Ernest E. Sechler Memorial Award in Aeronautics, 2006.
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Ravichandran, Guruswami
Thesis Committee:
  • Ravichandran, Guruswami (chair)
  • Daraio, Chiara
  • Tirrell, David A.
  • Bhattacharya, Kaushik
  • Knauss, Wolfgang Gustav
Defense Date:14 May 2008
Non-Caltech Author Email:cfranck (AT)
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-05292008-163638
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:5216
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:02 Jun 2008
Last Modified:17 Jan 2020 21:27

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