Cell biology research is an incredibly broad and complex field of study – the literature of which has consistently expanded in conjunction with various innovations that enable a deeper understanding of cellular microstructure and biochemistry. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is the latest tool helping to illuminate previously elusive cell mechanics and improve our understanding of various cellular processes that generate and respond to mechanical forces. Mechanobiology, viral interactions, and cell organization can be assessed in vitro due to the rapid probing capabilities of atomic force microscopy surfaces. This enables biochemists to acquire reliable data from cell mechanics and interactions that were previously invisible to conventional tools.
Virologists conducting cell biology research have used AFM to quantitatively observe the initial interactions between viral microbes and biological tissue. This is critical for understanding the initial phases of infection for specific virus strains, which can subsequently provide reliable data for medical and life sciences professionals in public health sectors. The reason AFM succeeds where conventional probing techniques for cell biology research fails is the technology’s ability to make measurements in near-physiological conditions.
The mechanisms of interest in cell biology research belong almost exclusively to living cells. Biochemists simulate physiological conditions by growing tissue samples in culturing media and incubating cells at appropriate temperatures. It is very difficult for conventional technologies to perform accurate measurements of the viscoelastic properties and mechanical interactions of cells in these conditions. They also offer very limited insights into characterizing cell substrates and soft culturing surfaces. AFM is one of the only tools available for quantitatively imaging live cells in culture while measuring the elastic and viscoelastic responses of cells to stimuli such as drugs or mechanical stress.
Continuing with the example of virology, it is possible to functionalize a measuring probe with a specific viral strain to observe the responses of cells to antigenic molecules. This is one of the emerging applications of AFM with significant research potential. More commonly, cell biology research utilizes AFM to measure the responses of cells in culture to mechanical stimulation. This can be carried out with outstanding degrees of precision, with sub-nanometer levels of lateral resolution and picoNewton-scale force sensitivity.
Measuring the minute mechanical responses of cells to mechanical probing can also offer a reliable measure of cell stiffness and viscoelastic variations over time, which is significant for cell biology research into cancerous cells and cytotoxic treatments. Changes in viscoelasticity and cell stiffness are reliable biomarkers of cellular metastatic potential. AFM allows biochemists to record the mechanotransduction of cells in near-physiological conditions, offering the most accurate measurements of cellular interactions currently possible.
Asylum Research has demonstrated the unique potential of AFM for cell biology research with a powerful range of atomic force microscopes suitable for cell biology and tissue engineering. Our tools have been combined with numerous optical technologies to provide the most enhanced and reliable measurements of cellular interactions under distinct conditions.