Medical & Biological Engineering & Computing

, Volume 48, Issue 10, pp 1043–1053 | Cite as

Can common adhesion molecules and microtopography affect cellular elasticity? A combined atomic force microscopy and optical study

  • Gordon McPhee
  • Matthew J. Dalby
  • Mathis Riehle
  • Huabing YinEmail author
Special Issue - Original Article


The phenomenon that cells respond to chemical and topographic cues in their surroundings has been widely examined and exploited in many fields ranging from basic life science research to biomedical therapeutics. Adhesion promoting molecules such as poly-l-lysine (PLL) and fibronectin (Fn) are commonly used for in vitro cell assays to promote cell spreading/proliferation on tissue culture plastic and to enhance the biocompatibility of biomedical devices. Likewise, engineered topography is often used to guide cell growth and differentiation. Little is known about how these cues affect the biomechanical properties of cells and subsequent cell function. In this study we have applied atomic force microscopy (AFM) to investigate these biomechanical properties. In the first stage of the study we formulated a rigorous approach to quantify cellular elasticity using AFM. Operational factors, including indentation depth and speed, and mathematical models for data fitting have been systematically evaluated. We then quantified how PLL, Fn and microtopography affected cellular elasticity and the organization of the cytoskeleton. Cellular elasticity after 1 day in culture was greater on a Fn-coated surface as compared to PLL or glass. These statistically significant differences disappeared after two more days in culture. In contrast, the significantly higher elasticity associated with cells grown on micrometric grooves remained for at least 3 days. This work sheds light on the apparently simple but debatable questions: “Are engineered chemical cues eventually masked by a cell’s own matrix proteins and so only exert short-term influence? Does engineered topography as well as engineered chemistry affect cell elasticity?”


AFM Indentation Topography Cellular elasticity Fibroblasts 



We would like to thank Dr. Jochen Guck, Dr. Kristian Franze, Professor Jon Cooper, Dr. Andrew Glidle and Dr. Phil Dobson for their continuous support for this work and inspiring discussions. We would also like to acknowledge the valuable assistance offered by JPK Instruments Ltd. in this study. G. McPhee is supported by the EPSRC. The Royal Society of Edinburgh supports HY as a Personal Research Fellow.

Supplementary material

11517_2010_657_MOESM1_ESM.doc (1.9 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 1975 kb)


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Copyright information

© International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gordon McPhee
    • 1
    • 2
  • Matthew J. Dalby
    • 2
  • Mathis Riehle
    • 2
  • Huabing Yin
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Bioelectronics Research Centre, Department of Electronics & Electrical EngineeringUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  2. 2.The Centre for Cell EngineeringUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK

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