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Manipulation of Suspended Single Cells by Microfluidics and Optical Tweezers


Chondrocytes and osteoblasts experience multiple stresses in vivo. The optimum mechanical conditions for cell health are not fully understood. This paper describes the optical and microfluidic mechanical manipulation of single suspended cells enabled by the μPIVOT, an integrated micron resolution particle image velocimeter (μPIV) and dual optical tweezers instrument (OT). In this study, we examine the viability and trap stiffness of cartilage cells, identify the maximum fluid-induced stresses possible in uniform and extensional flows, and compare the deformation characteristics of bone and muscle cells. These results indicate cell photodamage of chondrocytes is negligible for at least 20 min for laser powers below 30 mW, a dead cell presents less resistance to internal organelle rearrangement and deforms globally more than a viable cell, the maximum fluid-induced shear stresses are limited to ~15 mPa for uniform flows but may exceed 1 Pa for extensional flows, and osteoblasts show no deformation for shear stresses up to 250 mPa while myoblasts are more easily deformed and exhibit a modulated response to increasing stress. This suggests that global and/or local stresses can be applied to single cells without physical contact. Coupled with microfluidic sensors, these manipulations may provide unique methods to explore single cell biomechanics.

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Development and validation of the μPIVOT was funded by a National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant (CBET-0521637) and the Engineering Technology and Industry Council. Further validation and preliminary single-cell studies were supported by an Academic Research Enhancement Award from the National Institutes of Health (EB007077). Additional support for Nathalie Nève provided by the Maseeh Fellowship. Special thanks to Dr. Randy Zelick of the Portland State University Department of Biology for providing additional cell expertise.

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Correspondence to Derek C. Tretheway.

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Nève, N., Kohles, S.S., Winn, S.R. et al. Manipulation of Suspended Single Cells by Microfluidics and Optical Tweezers. Cel. Mol. Bioeng. 3, 213–228 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12195-010-0113-3

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  • Chondrocytes
  • Osteoblasts
  • Applied fluid and mechanical stresses
  • Cell biomechanics
  • Cell deformation