A novel platform for in situ investigation of cells and tissues under mechanical strain

W. W. Ahmed, M. H. Kural, T. A. Saif

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The mechanical micro-environment influences cellular responses such as migration, proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis. Cells are subjected to mechanical stretching in vivo, e.g., epithelial cells during embryogenesis. Current methodologies do not allow high-resolution in situ observation of cells and tissues under applied strain, which may reveal intracellular dynamics and the origin of cell mechanosensitivity. A novel polydimethylsiloxane substrate was developed, capable of applying tensile and compressive strain (up to 45%) to cells and tissues while allowing in situ observation with high-resolution optics. The strain field of the substrate was characterized experimentally using digital image correlation, and the deformation was modeled by the finite element method, using a Mooney-Rivlin hyperelastic constitutive relation. The substrate strain was found to be uniform for >95% of the substrate area. As a demonstration of the system, mechanical strain was applied to single fibroblasts transfected with GFP-actin and whole transgenic Drosophila embryos expressing GFP in all neurons during live imaging. Three observations of biological responses due to applied strain are reported: (1) dynamic rotation of intact actin stress fibers in fibroblasts; (2) lamellipodia activity and actin polymerization in fibroblasts; (3) active axonal contraction in Drosophila embryo motor neurons. The novel platform may serve as an important tool in studying the mechanoresponse of cells and tissues, including whole embryos.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2979-2990
Number of pages12
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2010


  • Cell mechanics
  • Drosophila embryos
  • Fibroblasts
  • Mechanical strain
  • Polydimethylsiloxane

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology


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