Clinical Assistant Professor, Pediatrics - Immunology and Allergy
Advances in methods that determine cell mechanical phenotype, or mechanotype, have demonstrated the utility of biophysical markers in clinical and research applications ranging from cancer diagnosis to stem cell enrichment. Here, we introduce quantitative deformability cytometry (q-DC), a method for rapid, calibrated, single-cell mechanotyping. We track changes in cell shape as cells deform into microfluidic constrictions, and we calibrate the mechanical stresses using gel beads. We observe that time-dependent strain follows power-law rheology, enabling single-cell measurements of apparent elastic modulus, Ea, and power-law exponent, ?. To validate our method, we mechanotype human promyelocytic leukemia (HL-60) cells and thereby confirm q-DC measurements of Ea = 0.53 ± 0.04 kPa. We also demonstrate that q-DC is sensitive to pharmacological perturbations of the cytoskeleton as well as differences in the mechanotype of human breast cancer cell lines (Ea = 2.1 ± 0.1 and 0.80 ± 0.19 kPa for MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 cells). To establish an operational framework for q-DC, we investigate the effects of applied stress and cell/pore-size ratio on mechanotype measurements. We show that Ea increases with applied stress, which is consistent with stress stiffening behavior of cells. We also find that Ea increases for larger cell/pore-size ratios, even when the same applied stress is maintained; these results indicate strain stiffening and/or dependence of mechanotype on deformation depth. Taken together, the calibrated measurements enabled by q-DC should advance applications of cell mechanotype in basic research and clinical settings.
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