Biomedical Microdevices

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 443–455 | Cite as

Measurement of single-cell adhesion strength using a microfluidic assay

  • Kevin V. Christ
  • Kyle B. Williamson
  • Kristyn S. Masters
  • Kevin T. TurnerEmail author


Despite the importance of cell adhesion in numerous physiological, pathological, and biomaterial-related responses, our understanding of adhesion strength at the cell-substrate interface and its relationship to cell function remains incomplete. One reason for this deficit is a lack of accessible experimental approaches that quantify adhesion strength at the single-cell level and facilitate large numbers of tests. The current work describes the design, fabrication, and use of a microfluidic-based method for single-cell adhesion strength measurements. By applying a monotonically increasing flow rate in a microfluidic channel in combination with video microscopy, the adhesion strength of individual NIH3T3 fibroblasts cultured for 24 h on various surfaces was measured. The small height of the channel allows high shear stresses to be generated under laminar conditions, allowing strength measurements on well-spread, strongly adhered cells that cannot be characterized in most conventional assays. This assay was used to quantify the relationship between morphological characteristics and adhesion strength for individual well-spread cells. Cell adhesion strength was found to be positively correlated with both cell area and circularity. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis was performed to examine the role of cell geometry in determining the actual stress applied to the cell. Use of this method to examine adhesion at the single-cell level allows the detachment of strongly-adhered cells under a highly-controllable, uniform loading to be directly observed and will enable the characterization of biological events and relationships that cannot currently be achieved using existing methods.


Cell adhesion Cell mechanics Shear flow Microfluidics 



We gratefully acknowledge funding provided by a State of Wisconsin Innovation & Economic Development Research Program (IEDR) grant (K.V.C., K.T.T.) and the NSF CAREER CBET-0547374 (K.B.W., K.S.M.). This research utilized NSF-supported (DMR-0520527) shared facilities at the University of Wisconsin.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kevin V. Christ
    • 1
  • Kyle B. Williamson
    • 2
  • Kristyn S. Masters
    • 1
    • 2
  • Kevin T. Turner
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Materials Science ProgramUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biomedical EngineeringUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Mechanical EngineeringUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA

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