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Measuring cell-generated forces: a guide to the available tools

Abstract

Forces generated by cells are critical regulators of cell adhesion, signaling, and function, and they are also essential drivers in the morphogenetic events of development. Over the past 20 years, several methods have been developed to measure these forces. However, despite recent substantial interest in understanding the contribution of these forces in biology, implementation and adoption of the developed methods by the broader biological community remain challenging because of the inherently multidisciplinary expertise required to conduct and interpret the measurements. In this review, we introduce the established methods and highlight the technical challenges associated with implementing each technique in a biological laboratory.

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Figure 1: ECM mechanical properties determine the relationship between force and deformation.
Figure 2: Methods for measuring cellular forces.
Figure 3: Cellular tractions on 2D and in 3D substrates.

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Acknowledgements

We thank A. Chopra and M. Kutys for helpful discussions. This work was supported in part by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) (grants EB00262 and GM74048 to C.S.C.), the National Science Foundation (grant CMMI-1462710 to C.S.C.), and the RESBIO Technology Resource for Polymeric Biomaterials (grant P41-EB001046 to C.S.C.). W.J.P. acknowledges financial support from the NIH through the Organ Design and Engineering Training program (T32 EB16652).

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Polacheck, W., Chen, C. Measuring cell-generated forces: a guide to the available tools. Nat Methods 13, 415–423 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nmeth.3834

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