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by Keyword: Force


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Alcaraz, J., Otero, J., Jorba, I., Navajas, D., (2018). Bidirectional mechanobiology between cells and their local extracellular matrix probed by atomic force microscopy Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology , 73, 71-81

There is growing recognition that the mechanical interactions between cells and their local extracellular matrix (ECM) are central regulators of tissue development, homeostasis, repair and disease progression. The unique ability of atomic force microscopy (AFM) to probe quantitatively mechanical properties and forces at the nanometer or micrometer scales in all kinds of biological samples has been instrumental in the recent advances in cell and tissue mechanics. In this review we illustrate how AFM has provided important insights on our current understanding of the mechanobiology of cells, ECM and cell-ECM bidirectional interactions, particularly in the context of soft acinar tissues like the mammary gland or pulmonary tissue. AFM measurements have revealed that intrinsic cell micromechanics is cell-type specific, and have underscored the prominent role of β1 integrin/FAK(Y397) signaling and the actomyosin cytoskeleton in the mechanoresponses of both parenchymal and stromal cells. Moreover AFM has unveiled that the micromechanics of the ECM obtained by tissue decellularization is unique for each anatomical compartment, which may support both its specific function and cell differentiation. AFM has also enabled identifying critical mechanoregulatory proteins involved in branching morphogenesis (MMP14) and acinar differentiation (α3β1 integrin), and has clarified the role of altered tissue mechanics and architecture in a variety of pathologic conditions. Critical technical issues of AFM mechanical measurements like tip geometry effects are also discussed.

Keywords: Atomic force microscopy, Beta1 integrin, Elastic modulus, Extracellular matrix, Morphogenesis, Tissue decellularization


Sehgal, Poonam, Kong, Xinyu, Wu, Jun, Sunyer, Raimon, Trepat, Xavier, Leckband, Deborah, (2018). Epidermal growth factor receptor and integrins control force-dependent vinculin recruitment to E-cadherin junctions Journal of Cell Science , 131, (6), jcs206656

This study reports novel findings that link E-cadherin (also known as CDH1)-mediated force-transduction signaling to vinculin targeting to intercellular junctions via epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and integrins. These results build on previous findings that demonstrated that mechanically perturbed E-cadherin receptors activate phosphoinositide 3-kinase and downstream integrins in an EGFR-dependent manner. Results of this study show that this EGFR-mediated kinase cascade controls the force-dependent recruitment of vinculin to stressed E-cadherin complexes – a key early signature of cadherin-based mechanotransduction. Vinculin targeting requires its phosphorylation at tyrosine 822 by Abl family kinases (hereafter Abl), but the origin of force-dependent Abl activation had not been identified. We now present evidence that integrin activation, which is downstream of EGFR signaling, controls Abl activation, thus linking E-cadherin to Abl through a mechanosensitive signaling network. These findings place EGFR and integrins at the center of a positive-feedback loop, through which force-activated E-cadherin signals regulate vinculin recruitment to cadherin complexes in response to increased intercellular tension.This article has an associated First Person interview with the first author of the paper.

Keywords: Cadherin, Epidermal growth factor receptor, Force transduction, Magnetic twisting cytometry, Vinculin, Integrin


Dols-Perez, Aurora, Fumagalli, Laura, Gomila, Gabriel, (2018). Interdigitation in spin-coated lipid layers in air Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces , 172, 400-406

In this study, we show that dry saturated phospholipid layers prepared by the spin-coating technique could present thinner regions associated to interdigitated phases under some conditions. The morphological characteristics of lipid layers of saturated phosphocholines, such as dilauroylphosphatidylcholine (DLPC), dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine (DMPC), dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC) and distearoylphosphatidylcholine (DSPC), have been measured by Atomic Force Microscopy and revealed that the presence of interdigitated regions is not induced by the same parameters that induce them in hydrated samples. To achieve these results the effect of the lipid hidrocabonated chain length, the presence of alcohol in the coating solution, the spinning velocity and the presence of cholesterol were tested. We showed that DPPC and DSPC bilayers, on the one side, can show structures with similar height than interdigitated regions observed in hydrated samples, while, on the other side, DLPC and DMPC tend to show no evidence of interdigitation. Results indicate that the presence of interdigitated areas is due to the presence of lateral tensions and, hence, that they can be eliminated by releasing these tensions by, for instance, the addition of cholesterol. These results demonstrate that interdigitation in lipid layers is a rather general phenomena and can be observed in lipid bilayers in dry conditions.

Keywords: Spin-coating, Lipid layers, Atomic Force Microscopy, Interdigitation


Menal, M. J., Jorba, I., Torres, M., Montserrat, J. M., Gozal, D., Colell, A., Piñol-Ripoll, G., Navajas, D., Almendros, I., Farré, R., (2018). Alzheimer's disease mutant mice exhibit reduced brain tissue stiffness compared to wild-type mice in both normoxia and following intermittent hypoxia mimicking sleep apnea Frontiers in Neurology , 9, Article 1

Background: Evidence from patients and animal models suggests that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and that AD is associated with reduced brain tissue stiffness. Aim: To investigate whether intermittent hypoxia (IH) alters brain cortex tissue stiffness in AD mutant mice exposed to IH mimicking OSA. Methods: Six-eight month old (B6C3-Tg(APPswe,PSEN1dE9)85Dbo/J) AD mutant mice and wild-type (WT) littermates were subjected to IH (21% O2 40 s to 5% O2 20 s; 6 h/day) or normoxia for 8 weeks. After euthanasia, the stiffness (E) of 200-μm brain cortex slices was measured by atomic force microscopy. Results: Two-way ANOVA indicated significant cortical softening and weight increase in AD mice compared to WT littermates, but no significant effects of IH on cortical stiffness and weight were detected. In addition, reduced myelin was apparent in AD (vs. WT), but no significant differences emerged in the cortex extracellular matrix components laminin and glycosaminoglycans when comparing baseline AD and WT mice. Conclusion: AD mutant mice exhibit reduced brain tissue stiffness following both normoxia and IH mimicking sleep apnea, and such differences are commensurate with increased edema and demyelination in AD.

Keywords: Animal model, Atomic force microscopy, Brain mechanics, Cortex stiffness, Neurodegenerative disease


Crespo-Villanueva, Adrián, Gumí-Audenis, Berta, Sanz, Fausto, Artzner, Franck, Mériadec, Cristelle, Rousseau, Florence, Lopez, Christelle, Giannotti, M. I., Guyomarc'h, Fanny, (2018). Casein interaction with lipid membranes: Are the phase state or charge density of the phospholipids affecting protein adsorption? Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Biomembranes , 1860, (12), 2588-2598

Casein micelles are ~200 nm electronegative particles that constitute 80 wt% of the milk proteins. During synthesis in the lactating mammary cells, caseins are thought to interact in the form of ~20 nm assemblies, directly with the biological membranes of the endoplasmic reticulum and/or the Golgi apparatus. However, conditions that drive this interaction are not yet known. Atomic force microscopy imaging and force spectroscopy were used to directly observe the adsorption of casein particles on supported phospholipid bilayers with controlled compositions to vary their phase state and surface charge density, as verified by X-ray diffraction and zetametry. At pH 6.7, the casein particles adsorbed onto bilayer phases with zwitterionic and liquid-disordered phospholipid molecules, but not on phases with anionic or ordered phospholipids. Furthermore, the presence of adsorbed caseins altered the stability of the yet exposed bilayer. Considering their respective compositions and symmetry/asymmetry, these results cast light on the possible interactions of casein assemblies with the organelles’ membranes of the lactating mammary cells.

Keywords: Casein proteins, Phospholipid membrane, Supported lipid bilayer, Atomic force microscopy


Farré, N., Otero, J., Falcones, B., Torres, M., Jorba, I., Gozal, D., Almendros, I., Farré, R., Navajas, D., (2018). Intermittent hypoxia mimicking sleep apnea increases passive stiffness of myocardial extracellular matrix. A multiscale study Frontiers in Physiology 9, Article 1143

Background: Tissue hypoxia-reoxygenation characterizes obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a very prevalent respiratory disease associated with increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Experimental studies indicate that intermittent hypoxia (IH) mimicking OSA induces oxidative stress and inflammation in heart tissue at the cell and molecular levels. However, it remains unclear whether IH modifies the passive stiffness of the cardiac tissue extracellular matrix (ECM). Aim: To investigate multiscale changes of stiffness induced by chronic IH in the ECM of left ventricular (LV) myocardium in a murine model of OSA. Methods: Two-month and 18-month old mice (N = 10 each) were subjected to IH (20% O2 40 s–6% O2 20 s) for 6 weeks (6 h/day). Corresponding control groups for each age were kept under normoxia. Fresh LV myocardial strips (~7 mm × 1 mm × 1 mm) were prepared, and their ECM was obtained by decellularization. Myocardium ECM macroscale mechanics were measured by performing uniaxial stress–strain tensile tests. Strip macroscale stiffness was assessed as the stress value (σ) measured at 0.2 strain and Young’s modulus (EM) computed at 0.2 strain by fitting Fung’s constitutive model to the stress–strain relationship. ECM stiffness was characterized at the microscale as the Young’s modulus (Em) measured in decellularized tissue slices (~12 μm tick) by atomic force microscopy. Results: Intermittent hypoxia induced a ~1.5-fold increase in σ (p < 0.001) and a ~2.5-fold increase in EM (p < 0.001) of young mice as compared with normoxic controls. In contrast, no significant differences emerged in Em among IH-exposed and normoxic mice. Moreover, the mechanical effects of IH on myocardial ECM were similar in young and aged mice. Conclusion: The marked IH-induced increases in macroscale stiffness of LV myocardium ECM suggests that the ECM plays a role in the cardiac dysfunction induced by OSA. Furthermore, absence of any significant effects of IH on the microscale ECM stiffness suggests that the significant increases in macroscale stiffening are primarily mediated by 3D structural ECM remodeling.

Keywords: Atomic force microscopy, Heart mechanics, Myocardial stiffness, Obstructive sleep apnea, Tensile test, Ventricular strain


Pellequer, J. L., Parot, P., Navajas, D., Kumar, S., Svetli, Scheuring, S., Hu, J., Li, B., Engler, A., Sousa, S., Lekka, M., Szymo, Schillers, H., Odorico, M., Lafont, F., Janel, S., Rico, F., (2018). Fifteen years of Servitude et Grandeur to the application of a biophysical technique in medicine: The tale of AFMBioMed Journal of Molecular Recognition In press

AFMBioMed is the founding name under which international conferences and summer schools are organized around the application of atomic force microscopy in life sciences and nanomedicine. From its inception at the Atomic Energy Commission in Marcoule near 2004 to its creation in 2007 and to its 10th anniversary conference in Krakow, a brief narrative history of its birth and rise will demonstrate how and what such an organization brings to laboratories and the AFM community. With the current planning of the next AFMBioMed conference in Münster in 2019, it will be 15 years of commitment to these events.

Keywords: Atomic Force Microscopy, Single molecules, Biomechanics, Force spectroscopy, High-speed AFM, Imaging, Nanoindentation, Nanomedicine, Nanotoxicology


Casanellas, Ignasi, Lagunas, Anna, Tsintzou, Iro, Vida, Yolanda, Collado, Daniel, Pérez-Inestrosa, Ezequiel, Rodríguez-Pereira, Cristina, Magalhaes, Joana, Gorostiza, Pau, Andrades, José A., Becerra, José, Samitier, Josep, (2018). Dendrimer-based uneven nanopatterns to locally control surface adhesiveness: A method to direct chondrogenic differentiation Journal of Visualized Experiments , Bioengineering, (131), e56347

Cellular adhesion and differentiation is conditioned by the nanoscale disposition of the extracellular matrix (ECM) components, with local concentrations having a major effect. Here we present a method to obtain large-scale uneven nanopatterns of arginine-glycine-aspartic acid (RGD)-functionalized dendrimers that permit the nanoscale control of local RGD surface density. Nanopatterns are formed by surface adsorption of dendrimers from solutions at different initial concentrations and are characterized by water contact angle (CA), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), and scanning probe microscopy techniques such as scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM). The local surface density of RGD is measured using AFM images by means of probability contour maps of minimum interparticle distances and then correlated with cell adhesion response and differentiation. The nanopatterning method presented here is a simple procedure that can be scaled up in a straightforward manner to large surface areas. It is thus fully compatible with cell culture protocols and can be applied to other ligands that exert concentration-dependent effects on cells.

Keywords: Bioengineering, Dendrimer, Nanopattern, Arginine-Glycine-Aspartic Acid (RGD), Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), Cell Adhesion, Mesenchymal Stem Cells (Mscs), Chondrogenesis


Puigbò, J. Y., Arsiwalla, X. D., Verschure, P., (2018). Challenges of machine learning for living machines Biomimetic and Biohybrid Systems 7th International Conference, Living Machines 2018 (Lecture Notes in Computer Science) , Springer International Publishing (Paris, France) 10928, 382-386

Machine Learning algorithms (and in particular Reinforcement Learning (RL)) have proved very successful in recent years. These have managed to achieve super-human performance in many different tasks, from video-games to board-games and complex cognitive tasks such as path-planning or Theory of Mind (ToM) on artificial agents. Nonetheless, this super-human performance is also super-artificial. Despite some metrics are better than what a human can achieve (i.e. cumulative reward), in less common metrics (i.e. time to learning asymptote) the performance is significantly worse. Moreover, the means by which those are achieved fail to extend our understanding of the human or mammal brain. Moreover, most approaches used are based on black-box optimization, making any comparison beyond performance (e.g. at the architectural level) difficult. In this position paper, we review the origins of reinforcement learning and propose its extension with models of learning derived from fear and avoidance behaviors. We argue that avoidance-based mechanisms are required when training on embodied, situated systems to ensure fast and safe convergence and potentially overcome some of the current limitations of the RL paradigm.

Keywords: Avoidance, Neural networks, Reinforcement learning


Herreros, I., (2018). Learning and control Living machines: A handbook of research in biomimetics and biohybrid systems (ed. Prescott, T. J., Lepora, Nathan, Verschure, P.), Oxford Scholarship (Oxford, UK) , 239-255

This chapter discusses basic concepts from control theory and machine learning to facilitate a formal understanding of animal learning and motor control. It first distinguishes between feedback and feed-forward control strategies, and later introduces the classification of machine learning applications into supervised, unsupervised, and reinforcement learning problems. Next, it links these concepts with their counterparts in the domain of the psychology of animal learning, highlighting the analogies between supervised learning and classical conditioning, reinforcement learning and operant conditioning, and between unsupervised and perceptual learning. Additionally, it interprets innate and acquired actions from the standpoint of feedback vs anticipatory and adaptive control. Finally, it argues how this framework of translating knowledge between formal and biological disciplines can serve us to not only structure and advance our understanding of brain function but also enrich engineering solutions at the level of robot learning and control with insights coming from biology.

Keywords: Feedback control, Feed-forward control, Supervised learning, Unsupervised learning, Reinforcement, Learning, Classical conditioning, Operant conditioning, Reflex, Anticipatory reflex


Freire, I. T., Arsiwalla, X. D., Puigbò, J. Y., Verschure, P., (2018). Limits of multi-agent predictive models in the formation of social conventions Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Applications (ed. Falomir, Z., Gibert, K., Plaza, E.), IOS Press (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) Volume 308: Artificial Intelligence Research and Development, 297-301

A major challenge in cognitive science and AI is to understand how intelligent agents might be able to predict mental states of other agents during complex social interactions. What are the computational principles of such a Theory of Mind (ToM)? In previous work, we have investigated hypotheses of how the human brain might realize a ToM of other agents in a multi-agent social scenario. In particular, we have proposed control-based cognitive architectures to predict the model of other agents in a game-theoretic task (Battle of the Exes). Our multi-layer architecture implements top-down predictions from adaptive to reactive layers of control and bottom-up error feedback from reactive to adaptive layers. We tested cooperative and competitive strategies among different multi-agent models, demonstrating that while pure RL leads to reasonable efficiency and fairness in social interactions, there are other architectures that can perform better in specific circumstances. However, we found that even the best predictive models fall short of human data in terms of stability of social convention formation. In order to explain this gap between humans and predictive AI agents, in this work we propose introducing the notion of trust in the form of mutual agreements between agents that might enhance stability in the formation of conventions such as turn-taking.

Keywords: Cognitive Architectures, Game Theory, Multi-Agent Models, Reinforcement Learning, Theory of Mind


Elosegui-Artola, A., Andreu, I., Beedle, A. E. M., Lezamiz, A., Uroz, M., Kosmalska, A. J., Oria, R., Kechagia, J. Z., Rico-Lastres, P., Le Roux, A. L., Shanahan, C. M., Trepat, X., Navajas, D., Garcia-Manyes, S., Roca-Cusachs, P., (2017). Force triggers YAP nuclear entry by regulating transport across nuclear pores Cell , 171, (6), 1397-1410

YAP is a mechanosensitive transcriptional activator with a critical role in cancer, regeneration, and organ size control. Here, we show that force applied to the nucleus directly drives YAP nuclear translocation by decreasing the mechanical restriction of nuclear pores to molecular transport. Exposure to a stiff environment leads cells to establish a mechanical connection between the nucleus and the cytoskeleton, allowing forces exerted through focal adhesions to reach the nucleus. Force transmission then leads to nuclear flattening, which stretches nuclear pores, reduces their mechanical resistance to molecular transport, and increases YAP nuclear import. The restriction to transport is further regulated by the mechanical stability of the transported protein, which determines both active nuclear transport of YAP and passive transport of small proteins. Our results unveil a mechanosensing mechanism mediated directly by nuclear pores, demonstrated for YAP but with potential general applicability in transcriptional regulation. Force-dependent changes in nuclear pores control protein access to the nucleus.

Keywords: Atomic force microscopy, Hippo pathway, Mechanosensing, Mechanotransduction, Molecular mechanical stability, Nuclear mechanics, Nuclear pores, Nuclear transport, Rigidity sensing, Transcription regulation


Wang, Y., van Merwyk, L., Tönsing, K., Walhorn, V., Anselmetti, D., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2017). Biophysical characterization of the association of histones with single-stranded DNA Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - General Subjects , 1861, (11), 2739-2749

Background: Despite the profound current knowledge of the architecture and dynamics of nucleosomes, little is known about the structures generated by the interaction of histones with single-stranded DNA (ssDNA), which is widely present during replication and transcription. Methods: Non-denaturing gel electrophoresis, transmission electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, magnetic tweezers. Results: Histones have a high affinity for ssDNA in 0.15 M NaCl ionic strength, with an apparent binding constant similar to that calculated for their association with double-stranded DNA (dsDNA). The length of DNA (number of nucleotides in ssDNA or base pairs in dsDNA) associated with a fixed core histone mass is the same for both ssDNA and dsDNA. Although histone-ssDNA complexes show a high tendency to aggregate, nucleosome-like structures are formed at physiological salt concentrations. Core histones are able to protect ssDNA from digestion by micrococcal nuclease, and a shortening of ssDNA occurs upon its interaction with histones. The purified (+) strand of a cloned DNA fragment of nucleosomal origin has a higher affinity for histones than the purified complementary (−) strand. Conclusions: At physiological ionic strength histones have high affinity for ssDNA, possibly associating with it into nucleosome-like structures. General significance: In the cell nucleus histones may spontaneously interact with ssDNA to facilitate their participation in the replication and transcription of chromatin.

Keywords: Electrophoresis, Force spectroscopy, Histones, Magnetic tweezers, Nucleosome, Single-stranded DNA


Jorba, I., Menal, M. J., Torres, M., Gozal, D., Piñol-Ripoll, G., Colell, A., Montserrat, J. M., Navajas, D., Farré, R., Almendros, I., (2017). Ageing and chronic intermittent hypoxia mimicking sleep apnea do not modify local brain tissue stiffness in healthy mice Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials , 71, 106-113

Recent evidence suggests that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may increase the risk of Alzheimer´s disease (AD), with the latter promoting alterations in brain tissue stiffness, a feature of ageing. Here, we assessed the effects of age and intermittent hypoxia (IH) on brain tissue stiffness in a mouse model of OSA. Two-month-old and 18-month-old mice (N=10 each) were subjected to IH (20% O2 40 s – 6% O2 20 s) for 8 weeks (6 h/day). Corresponding control groups for each age were kept under normoxic conditions in room air (RA). After sacrifice, the brain was excised and 200-micron coronal slices were cut with a vibratome. Local stiffness of the cortex and hippocampus were assessed in brain slices placed in an Atomic Force Microscope. For both brain regions, the Young's modulus (E) in each animal was computed as the average values from 9 force-indentation curves. Cortex E mean (±SE) values were 442±122 Pa (RA) and 455±120 (IH) for young mice and 433±44 (RA) and 405±101 (IH) for old mice. Hippocampal E values were 376±62 (RA) and 474±94 (IH) for young mice and 486±93 (RA) and 521±210 (IH) for old mice. For both cortex and hippocampus, 2-way ANOVA indicated no statistically significant effects of age or challenge (IH vs. RA) on E values. Thus, neither chronic IH mimicking OSA nor ageing up to late middle age appear to modify local brain tissue stiffness in otherwise healthy mice.

Keywords: Atomic Force Microscopy, Brain mechanics, Cortex stiffness, Hippocampus stiffness, Obstructive sleep apnea, Young's modulus


Obiols-Rabasa, M., Oncins, G., Sanz, F., Tadros, T. F., Solans, C., Levecke, B., Booten, K., Esquena, J., (2017). Investigation of the elastic and adhesion properties of adsorbed hydrophobically modified inulin films on latex particles using Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) Colloids and Surfaces A: Physicochemical and Engineering Aspects , 524, 185-192

Graft polymer surfactants provide very good colloidal stability because of strong steric repulsions between adsorbed surfactant films. The elastic and adhesion properties of adsorbed hydrophobically modified inulin polymer surfactant (INUTEC NRA) have been directly measured using Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) measurements. For this purpose, poly(methyl methacrylate/butyl acrylate), P(MMA/BuA), latexes prepared in the presence of the hydrophobically modified inulin (INUTEC NRA) were used. These latexes (diameter 118 nm and polydispersity index of 1.05) showed a very high colloidal stability in water and in the presence of electrolyte (up to 0.2 mol dm−3 KBr). The latexes were deposited on mica, which was silanated to enhance the adhesion of the latex particles to the surface. A silicon nitride tip with approximately 10 nm diameter that also contained an adsorbed layer of surfactant was used in the AFM apparatus. The tip was allowed to approach, contact thereafter the particles with an applied force of 12.5 nN, and finally detach from the film. Both elastic (Young’s) modulus of the film and adhesion force were studied. The results showed that the adsorbed surfactant films are highly elastic and their elastic modulus and adhesion force did not change significantly with the presence of Na2SO4 up to 0.05 mol dm−3. The high elastic contribution to the steric interaction ensures strong repulsion between the latex particles both in water and at high electrolyte concentrations. In addition, the lack of dependence of adhesion force on electrolyte concentration ensures uniform deposition of the latex particles on a flat substrate as for example in coating applications. These results show the advantages of using a graft polymer surfactant for enhancing the stability of particle suspensions, as illustrated in previous investigations.

Keywords: AFM, Colloidal stability, Interaction forces, Steric repulsion


Aviles, A. I., Alsaleh, S. M., Hahn, J. K., Casals, A., (2017). Towards retrieving force feedback in robotic-assisted surgery: A supervised neuro-recurrent-vision approach IEEE Transactions on Haptics , 10, (3), 431-443

Robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgeries have gained a lot of popularity over conventional procedures as they offer many benefits to both surgeons and patients. Nonetheless, they still suffer from some limitations that affect their outcome. One of them is the lack of force feedback which restricts the surgeon's sense of touch and might reduce precision during a procedure. To overcome this limitation, we propose a novel force estimation approach that combines a vision based solution with supervised learning to estimate the applied force and provide the surgeon with a suitable representation of it. The proposed solution starts with extracting the geometry of motion of the heart's surface by minimizing an energy functional to recover its 3D deformable structure. A deep network, based on a LSTM-RNN architecture, is then used to learn the relationship between the extracted visual-geometric information and the applied force, and to find accurate mapping between the two. Our proposed force estimation solution avoids the drawbacks usually associated with force sensing devices, such as biocompatibility and integration issues. We evaluate our approach on phantom and realistic tissues in which we report an average root-mean square error of 0.02 N.

Keywords: Computer-assisted surgery, Deep networks, Force estimation, Visual deformation


Marsal, Maria, Jorba, Ignasi, Rebollo, Elena, Luque, Tomas, Navajas, Daniel, Martín-Blanco, Enrique, (2017). AFM and microrheology in the zebrafish embryo yolk cell Journal of Visualized Experiments , Developmental Biology, (129), e56224

Elucidating the factors that direct the spatio-temporal organization of evolving tissues is one of the primary purposes in the study of development. Various propositions claim to have been important contributions to the understanding of the mechanical properties of cells and tissues in their spatiotemporal organization in different developmental and morphogenetic processes. However, due to the lack of reliable and accessible tools to measure material properties and tensional parameters in vivo, validating these hypotheses has been difficult. Here we present methods employing atomic force microscopy (AFM) and particle tracking with the aim of quantifying the mechanical properties of the intact zebrafish embryo yolk cell during epiboly. Epiboly is an early conserved developmental process whose study is facilitated by the transparency of the embryo. These methods are simple to implement, reliable, and widely applicable since they overcome intrusive interventions that could affect tissue mechanics. A simple strategy was applied for the mounting of specimens, AFM recording, and nanoparticle injections and tracking. This approach makes these methods easily adaptable to other developmental times or organisms.

Keywords: Developmental Biology, Zebrafish, Yolk, Atomic Force Microscopy, Cortical Tension, Microrheology, Nanoparticle tracking


Giménez, A., Uriarte, J. J., Vieyra, J., Navajas, D., Alcaraz, J., (2017). Elastic properties of hydrogels and decellularized tissue sections used in mechanobiology studies probed by atomic force microscopy Microscopy Research and Technique , 80, (1), 85-96

The increasing recognition that tissue elasticity is an important regulator of cell behavior in normal and pathologic conditions such as fibrosis and cancer has driven the development of cell culture substrata with tunable elasticity. Such development has urged the need to quantify the elastic properties of these cell culture substrata particularly at the nanometer scale, since this is the relevant length scale involved in cell-extracellular matrix (ECM) mechanical interactions. To address this need, we have exploited the versatility of atomic force microscopy to quantify the elastic properties of a variety of cell culture substrata used in mechanobiology studies, including floating collagen gels, ECM-coated polyacrylamide gels, and decellularized tissue sections. In this review we summarize major findings in this field from our group within the context of the state-of-the-art in the field, and provide a critical discussion on the applicability and complementarity of currently available cell culture assays with tunable elasticity. In addition, we briefly describe how the limitations of these assays provide opportunities for future research, which is expected to continue expanding our understanding of the mechanobiological aspects that support both normal and diseased conditions.

Keywords: 3D culture, Atomic force microscopy, Elastic modulus, Extracellular matrix, Polyacrylamide


Gumí-Audenis, Berta, Costa, Luca, Carlá, Francesco, Comin, Fabio, Sanz, Fausto, Giannotti, M. I., (2016). Structure and nanomechanics of model membranes by atomic force microscopy and spectroscopy: Insights into the role of cholesterol and sphingolipids Membranes , 6, (4), 58

Biological membranes mediate several biological processes that are directly associated with their physical properties but sometimes difficult to evaluate. Supported lipid bilayers (SLBs) are model systems widely used to characterize the structure of biological membranes. Cholesterol (Chol) plays an essential role in the modulation of membrane physical properties. It directly influences the order and mechanical stability of the lipid bilayers, and it is known to laterally segregate in rafts in the outer leaflet of the membrane together with sphingolipids (SLs). Atomic force microscope (AFM) is a powerful tool as it is capable to sense and apply forces with high accuracy, with distance and force resolution at the nanoscale, and in a controlled environment. AFM-based force spectroscopy (AFM-FS) has become a crucial technique to study the nanomechanical stability of SLBs by controlling the liquid media and the temperature variations. In this contribution, we review recent AFM and AFM-FS studies on the effect of Chol on the morphology and mechanical properties of model SLBs, including complex bilayers containing SLs. We also introduce a promising combination of AFM and X-ray (XR) techniques that allows for in situ characterization of dynamic processes, providing structural, morphological, and nanomechanical information

Keywords: Atomic force microscopy, Force spectroscopy, Lipid membranes, Supported lipid bilayers, Nanomechanics, Cholesterol, Sphingolipids, Membrane structure, XR-AFM combination


Ladoux, B., Mège, R. M., Trepat, X., (2016). Front-rear polarization by mechanical cues: From single cells to tissues Trends in Cell Biology , 26, (6), 420-433

Directed cell migration is a complex process that involves front-rear polarization, characterized by cell adhesion and cytoskeleton-based protrusion, retraction, and contraction of either a single cell or a cell collective. Single cell polarization depends on a variety of mechanochemical signals including external adhesive cues, substrate stiffness, and confinement. In cell ensembles, coordinated polarization of migrating tissues results not only from the application of traction forces on the extracellular matrix but also from the transmission of mechanical stress through intercellular junctions. We focus here on the impact of mechanical cues on the establishment and maintenance of front-rear polarization from single cell to collective cell behaviors through local or large-scale mechanisms.

Keywords: Cell forces, Cell polarity, Collective cell migration, Mechanobiology, Micropatterning, Substrate stiffness


Przybyla, L., Lakins, J. N., Sunyer, R., Trepat, X., Weaver, V. M., (2016). Monitoring developmental force distributions in reconstituted embryonic epithelia Methods , 94, 101-113

The way cells are organized within a tissue dictates how they sense and respond to extracellular signals, as cues are received and interpreted based on expression and organization of receptors, downstream signaling proteins, and transcription factors. Part of this microenvironmental context is the result of forces acting on the cell, including forces from other cells or from the cellular substrate or basement membrane. However, measuring forces exerted on and by cells is difficult, particularly in an in vivo context, and interpreting how forces affect downstream cellular processes poses an even greater challenge. Here, we present a simple method for monitoring and analyzing forces generated from cell collectives. We demonstrate the ability to generate traction force data from human embryonic stem cells grown in large organized epithelial sheets to determine the magnitude and organization of cell-ECM and cell-cell forces within a self-renewing colony. We show that this method can be used to measure forces in a dynamic hESC system and demonstrate the ability to map intracolony protein localization to force organization.

Keywords: Epiblast, Human embryonic stem cells, Mechanotransduction, Monolayer stress microscopy, Self-organization, Traction force


Aviles, A. I., Alsaleh, S., Montseny, E., Sobrevilla, P., Casals, A., (2016). A Deep-Neuro-Fuzzy approach for estimating the interaction forces in Robotic surgery FUZZ-IEEE IEEE International Conference on Fuzzy Systems , IEEE (Vancouver, Canada ) , 1113-1119

Fuzzy theory was motivated by the need to create human-like solutions that allow representing vagueness and uncertainty that exist in the real-world. These capabilities have been recently further enhanced by deep learning since it allows converting complex relation between data into knowledge. In this paper, we present a novel Deep-Neuro-Fuzzy strategy for unsupervised estimation of the interaction forces in Robotic Assisted Minimally Invasive scenarios. In our approach, the capability of Neuro-Fuzzy systems for handling visual uncertainty, as well as the inherent imprecision of real physical problems, is reinforced by the advantages provided by Deep Learning methods. Experiments conducted in a realistic setting have demonstrated the superior performance of the proposed approach over existing alternatives. More precisely, our method increased the accuracy of the force estimation and compared favorably to existing state of the art approaches, offering a percentage of improvement that ranges from about 35% to 85%.

Keywords: Estimation, Force, Machine learning, Robots, Three-dimensional displays, Uncertainty, Visualization


Brask, J. B., Singla-Buxarrais, G., Uroz, M., Vincent, R., Trepat, X., (2015). Compressed sensing traction force microscopy Acta Biomaterialia 26, 286-294

Adherent cells exert traction forces on their substrate, and these forces play important roles in biological functions such as mechanosensing, cell differentiation and cancer invasion. The method of choice to assess these active forces is traction force microscopy (TFM). Despite recent advances, TFM remains highly sensitive to measurement noise and exhibits limited spatial resolution. To improve the resolution and noise robustness of TFM, here we adapt techniques from compressed sensing (CS) to the reconstruction of the traction field from the substrate displacement field. CS enables the recovery of sparse signals at higher resolution from lower resolution data. Focal adhesions (FAs) of adherent cells are spatially sparse implying that traction fields are also sparse. Here we show, by simulation and by experiment, that the CS approach enables circumventing the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem to faithfully reconstruct the traction field at a higher resolution than that of the displacement field. This allows reaching state-of-the-art resolution using only a medium magnification objective. We also find that CS improves reconstruction quality in the presence of noise. Statement of Significance A great scientific advance of the past decade is the recognition that physical forces determine an increasing list of biological processes. Traction force microscopy which measures the forces that cells exert on their surroundings has seen significant recent improvements, however the technique remains sensitive to measurement noise and severely limited in spatial resolution. We exploit the fact that the force fields are sparse to boost the spatial resolution and noise robustness by applying ideas from compressed sensing. The novel method allows high resolution on a larger field of view. This may in turn allow better understanding of the cell forces at the multicellular level, which are known to be important in wound healing and cancer invasion.

Keywords: Compressed sensing, High resolution, Traction force microscopy


Reginensi, Diego, Carulla, Patricia, Nocentini, Sara, Seira, Oscar, Serra-Picamal, Xavier, Torres-Espín, Abel, Matamoros-Angles, Andreu, Gavín, Rosalina, Moreno-Flores, María Teresa, Wandosell, Francisco, Samitier, Josep, Trepat, Xavier, Navarro, Xavier, del Río, José Antonio, (2015). Increased migration of olfactory ensheathing cells secreting the Nogo receptor ectodomain over inhibitory substrates and lesioned spinal cord Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences , 72, (14), 2719-2737

Olfactory ensheathing cell (OEC) transplantation emerged some years ago as a promising therapeutic strategy to repair injured spinal cord. However, inhibitory molecules are present for long periods of time in lesioned spinal cord, inhibiting both OEC migration and axonal regrowth. Two families of these molecules, chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans (CSPG) and myelin-derived inhibitors (MAIs), are able to trigger inhibitory responses in lesioned axons. Mounting evidence suggests that OEC migration is inhibited by myelin. Here we demonstrate that OEC migration is largely inhibited by CSPGs and that inhibition can be overcome by the bacterial enzyme Chondroitinase ABC. In parallel, we have generated a stable OEC cell line overexpressing the Nogo receptor (NgR) ectodomain to reduce MAI-associated inhibition in vitro and in vivo. Results indicate that engineered cells migrate longer distances than unmodified OECs over myelin or oligodendrocyte-myelin glycoprotein (OMgp)-coated substrates. In addition, they also show improved migration in lesioned spinal cord. Our results provide new insights toward the improvement of the mechanisms of action and optimization of OEC-based cell therapy for spinal cord lesion.

Keywords: Olfactory ensheathing cells, Traction force microscopy, Chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans, Cell migration, Nogo receptor ectodomain


Abadías, Clara, Serés, Carme, Torrent-Burgués, J., (2015). AFM in peak force mode applied to worn siloxane-hydrogel contact lenses Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces , 128, 61-66

The objective of this work is to apply Atomic Force Microscopy in Peak Force mode to obtain topographic characteristics (mean roughness, root-mean-square roughness, skewness and kurtosis) and mechanical characteristics (adhesion, elastic modulus) of Siloxane-Hydrogel Soft Contact Lenses (CLs) of two different materials, Lotrafilcon B of Air Optix (AO) and Asmofilcon A of PremiO (P), after use (worn CLs). Thus, the results obtained with both materials will be compared, as well as the changes produced by the wear at a nanoscopic level. The results show significant changes in the topographic and mechanical characteristics of the CLs, at a nanoscopic level, due to wear. The AO CL show values of the topographic parameters lower than those of the P CL after wear, which correlates with a better comfort qualification given to the former by the wearers. A significant correlation has also been obtained between the adhesion values found after the use of the CLs with tear quality tests, both break-up-time and Schirmer.

Keywords: Adhesion, Atomic force microscopy-peak force mode, Surface topography, Worn siloxane-hydrogel contact lenses, Young modulus


Mrkonji, Garcia-Elias, A., Pardo-Pastor, C., Bazellières, E., Trepat, X., Vriens, J., Ghosh, D., Voets, T., Vicente, R., Valverde, M. A., (2015). TRPV4 participates in the establishment of trailing adhesions and directional persistence of migrating cells Pflugers Archiv European Journal of Physiology , 467, (10), 2107-2119

Calcium signaling participates in different cellular processes leading to cell migration. TRPV4, a non-selective cation channel that responds to mechano-osmotic stimulation and heat, is also involved in cell migration. However, the mechanistic involvement of TRPV4 in cell migration is currently unknown. We now report that expression of the mutant channel TRPV4-121AAWAA (lacking the phosphoinositide-binding site 121KRWRK125 and the response to physiological stimuli) altered HEK293 cell migration. Altered migration patterns included periods of fast and persistent motion followed by periods of stalling and turning, and the extension of multiple long cellular protrusions. TRPV4-WT overexpressing cells showed almost complete loss of directionality with frequent turns, no progression, and absence of long protrusions. Traction microscopy revealed higher tractions forces in the tail of TRPV4-121AAWAA than in TRPV4-WT expressing cells. These results are consistent with a defective and augmented tail retraction in TRPV4-121AAWAA- and TRPV4-WT-expressing cells, respectively. The activity of calpain, a protease implicated in focal adhesion (FA) disassembly, was decreased in TRPV4-121AAWAA compared with TRPV4-WT-expressing cells. Consistently, larger focal adhesions were seen in TRPV4-121AAWAA compared with TRPV4-WT-expressing HEK293 cells, a result that was also reproduced in T47D and U87 cells. Similarly, overexpression of the pore-dead mutant TRPV4-M680D resumed the TRPV4-121AAWAA phenotype presenting larger FA. The migratory phenotype obtained in HEK293 cells overexpressing TRPV4-121AAWAA was mimicked by knocking-down TRPC1, a cationic channel that participates in cell migration. Together, our results point to the participation of TRPV4 in the dynamics of trailing adhesions, a function that may require the interplay of TRPV4 with other cation channels or proteins present at the FA sites.

Keywords: Calcium, Calpain, Focal adhesion, Migration, Traction forces, TRPV4


Van Der Hofstadt, M., Hüttener, M., Juárez, A., Gomila, G., (2015). Nanoscale imaging of the growth and division of bacterial cells on planar substrates with the atomic force microscope Ultramicroscopy , 154, 29-36

Abstract With the use of the atomic force microscope (AFM), the Nanomicrobiology field has advanced drastically. Due to the complexity of imaging living bacterial processes in their natural growing environments, improvements have come to a standstill. Here we show the in situ nanoscale imaging of the growth and division of single bacterial cells on planar substrates with the atomic force microscope. To achieve this, we minimized the lateral shear forces responsible for the detachment of weakly adsorbed bacteria on planar substrates with the use of the so called dynamic jumping mode with very soft cantilever probes. With this approach, gentle imaging conditions can be maintained for long periods of time, enabling the continuous imaging of the bacterial cell growth and division, even on planar substrates. Present results offer the possibility to observe living processes of untrapped bacteria weakly attached to planar substrates.

Keywords: Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), Living cell imaging, Bacteria division, Gelatine immobilization, Dynamic jumping mode


Gumí-Audenis, B., Carlà, F., Vitorino, M. V., Panzarella, A., Porcar, L., Boilot, M., Guerber, S., Bernard, P., Rodrigues, M. S., Sanz, F., Giannotti, M. I., Costa, L., (2015). Custom AFM for X-ray beamlines: in situ biological investigations under physiological conditions Journal of Synchrotron Radiation , 22, 1364-1371

A fast atomic force microscope (AFM) has been developed that can be installed as a sample holder for grazing-incidence X-ray experiments at solid/gas or solid/liquid interfaces. It allows a wide range of possible investigations, including soft and biological samples under physiological conditions (hydrated specimens). The structural information obtained using the X-rays is combined with the data gathered with the AFM (morphology and mechanical properties), providing a unique characterization of the specimen and its dynamics in situ during an experiment. In this work, lipid monolayers and bilayers in air or liquid environment have been investigated by means of AFM, both with imaging and force spectroscopy, and X-ray reflectivity. In addition, this combination allows the radiation damage induced by the beam on the sample to be studied, as has been observed on DOPC and DPPC supported lipid bilayers under physiological conditions.

Keywords: In situ atomic force microscopy, Grazing-incidence scattering and reflectivity, Radiation damage, Model lipid membranes


Aviles, A. I., Alsaleh, S. M., Sobrevilla, P., Casals, A., (2015). Force-feedback sensory substitution using supervised recurrent learning for robotic-assisted surgery Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC) 37th Annual International Conference of the IEEE , IEEE (Milan, Italy) , 1-4

The lack of force feedback is considered one of the major limitations in Robot Assisted Minimally Invasive Surgeries. Since add-on sensors are not a practical solution for clinical environments, in this paper we present a force estimation approach that starts with the reconstruction of a 3D deformation structure of the tissue surface by minimizing an energy functional. A Recurrent Neural Network-Long Short Term Memory (RNN-LSTM) based architecture is then presented to accurately estimate the applied forces. According to the results, our solution offers long-term stability and shows a significant percentage of accuracy improvement, ranging from about 54% to 78%, over existing approaches.

Keywords: Computer architecture, Estimation, Force, Microprocessors, Robot sensing systems, Surgery


Aviles, A. I., Alsaleh, S., Sobrevilla, P., Casals, A., (2015). Sensorless force estimation using a neuro-vision-based approach for robotic-assisted surgery NER 2015 7th International IEEE/EMBS Conference on Neural Engineering , IEEE (Montpellier, France) , 86-89

This paper addresses the issue of lack of force feedback in robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgeries. Force is an important measure for surgeons in order to prevent intra-operative complications and tissue damage. Thus, an innovative neuro-vision based force estimation approach is proposed. Tissue surface displacement is first measured via minimization of an energy functional. A neuro approach is then used to establish a geometric-visual relation and estimate the applied force. The proposed approach eliminates the need of add-on sensors, carrying out biocompatibility studies and is applicable to tissues of any shape. Moreover, we provided an improvement from 15.14% to 56.16% over other approaches which demonstrate the potential of our proposal.

Keywords: Estimation, Force, Minimally invasive surgery, Robot sensing systems, Three-dimensional displays


Serra-Picamal, Xavier, Conte, Vito, Sunyer, Raimon, Muñoz, José J., Trepat, Xavier, (2015). Mapping forces and kinematics during collective cell migration Methods in Cell Biology - Biophysical Methods in Cell Biology (ed. Wilson, L., Tran, P.), Academic Press (Santa Barbara, USA) 125, 309-330

Abstract Fundamental biological processes including morphogenesis and tissue repair require cells to migrate collectively. In these processes, epithelial or endothelial cells move in a cooperative manner coupled by intercellular junctions. Ultimately, the movement of these multicellular systems occurs through the generation of cellular forces, exerted either on the substrate via focal adhesions (cell–substrate forces) or on neighboring cells through cell–cell junctions (cell–cell forces). Quantitative measurements of multicellular forces and kinematics with cellular or subcellular resolution have become possible only in recent years. In this chapter, we describe some of these techniques, which include particle image velocimetry to map cell velocities, traction force microscopy to map forces exerted by cells on the substrate, and monolayer stress microscopy to map forces within and between cells. We also describe experimental protocols to perform these measurements. The combination of these techniques with high-resolution imaging tools and molecular perturbations will lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying collective cell migration in health and disease.

Keywords: Collective cell migration, Monolayer stress microscopy, Traction force microscopy


Cuervo, A., Dans, P. D., Carrascosa, J. L., Orozco, M., Gomila, G., Fumagalli, L., (2014). Direct measurement of the dielectric polarization properties of DNA Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111, (35), E3624-E3630

The electric polarizability of DNA, represented by the dielectric constant, is a key intrinsic property that modulates DNA interaction with effector proteins. Surprisingly, it has so far remained unknown owing to the lack of experimental tools able to access it. Here, we experimentally resolved it by detecting the ultraweak polarization forces of DNA inside single T7 bacteriophages particles using electrostatic force microscopy. In contrast to the common assumption of low-polarizable behavior like proteins (εr ~ 2–4), we found that the DNA dielectric constant is ~ 8, considerably higher than the value of ~ 3 found for capsid proteins. State-of-the-art molecular dynamic simulations confirm the experimental findings, which result in sensibly decreased DNA interaction free energy than normally predicted by Poisson–Boltzmann methods. Our findings reveal a property at the basis of DNA structure and functions that is needed for realistic theoretical descriptions, and illustrate the synergetic power of scanning probe microscopy and theoretical computation techniques.

Keywords: Atomic force microscopy, Atomistic simulations, DNA packaging, DNA-ligand binding, Poisson-Boltzmann equation, capsid protein, DNA, double stranded DNA, amino acid composition, article, atomic force microscopy, bacteriophage, bacteriophage T7, dielectric constant, dipole, DNA binding, DNA packaging, DNA structure, electron microscopy, ligand binding, nonhuman, polarization, priority journal, protein analysis, protein DNA interaction, scanning probe microscopy, static electricity, virion, virus capsid, virus particle, atomic force microscopy, atomistic simulations, DNA packaging, DNA-ligand binding, Poisson-Boltzmann equation, Bacteriophage T7, Capsid, Cations, Dielectric Spectroscopy, DNA, DNA, Viral, DNA-Binding Proteins, Electrochemical Techniques, Ligands, Microscopy, Atomic Force, Models, Chemical, Nuclear Proteins


Lagunas, A., Garcia, A., Artés, J. M., Vida, Y., Collado, D., Pérez-Inestrosa, E., Gorostiza, P., Claros, S., Andrades, J. A., Samitier, J., (2014). Large-scale dendrimer-based uneven nanopatterns for the study of local arginine-glycine-aspartic acid (RGD) density effects on cell adhesion Nano Research , 7, (3), 399-409

Cell adhesion processes are governed by the nanoscale arrangement of the extracellular matrix (ECM), being more affected by local rather than global concentrations of cell adhesive ligands. In many cell-based studies, grafting of dendrimers on surfaces has shown the benefits of the local increase in concentration provided by the dendritic configuration, although the lack of any reported surface characterization has limited any direct correlation between dendrimer disposition and cell response. In order to establish a proper correlation, some control over dendrimer surface deposition is desirable. Here, dendrimer nanopatterning has been employed to address arginine-glycine-aspartic acid (RGD) density effects on cell adhesion. Nanopatterned surfaces were fully characterized by atomic force microscopy (AFM), scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), showing that tunable distributions of cell adhesive ligands on the surface are obtained as a function of the initial dendrimer bulk concentration. Cell experiments showed a clear correlation with dendrimer surface layout: Substrates presenting regions of high local ligand density resulted in a higher percentage of adhered cells and a higher degree of maturation of focal adhesions (FAs). Therefore, dendrimer nanopatterning is presented as a suitable and controlled approach to address the effect of local ligand density on cell response. Moreover, due to the easy modification of dendrimer peripheral groups, dendrimer nanopatterning can be further extended to other ECM ligands having density effects on cells.

Keywords: Arginine-glycine-aspartic acid, Atomic force microscopy, Cell adhesion, Dendrimer, Focal adhesions, Scanning tunneling microscopy


Andreu, I., Luque, T., Sancho, A., Pelacho, B., Iglesias-García, O., Melo, E., Farré, R., Prósper, F., Elizalde, M. R., Navajas, D., (2014). Heterogeneous micromechanical properties of the extracellular matrix in healthy and infarcted hearts Acta Biomaterialia 10, (7), 3235-3242

Infarcted hearts are macroscopically stiffer than healthy organs. Nevertheless, although cell behavior is mediated by the physical features of the cell niche, the intrinsic micromechanical properties of healthy and infarcted heart extracellular matrix (ECM) remain poorly characterized. Using atomic force microscopy, we studied ECM micromechanics of different histological regions of the left ventricle wall of healthy and infarcted mice. Hearts excised from healthy (n = 8) and infarcted mice (n = 8) were decellularized with sodium dodecyl sulfate and cut into 12 μm thick slices. Healthy ventricular ECM revealed marked mechanical heterogeneity across histological regions of the ventricular wall with the effective Young's modulus ranging from 30.2 ± 2.8 to 74.5 ± 8.7 kPa in collagen- and elastin-rich regions of the myocardium, respectively. Infarcted ECM showed a predominant collagen composition and was 3-fold stiffer than collagen-rich regions of the healthy myocardium. ECM of both healthy and infarcted hearts exhibited a solid-like viscoelastic behavior that conforms to two power-law rheology. Knowledge of intrinsic micromechanical properties of the ECM at the length scale at which cells sense their environment will provide further insight into the cell-scaffold interplay in healthy and infarcted hearts.

Keywords: Atomic force microscopy, Extracellular matrix, Heart scaffold, Nanoindentation, Viscoelasticity


Dols-Perez, A., Fumagalli, L., Gomila, G., (2014). Structural and nanomechanical effects of cholesterol in binary and ternary spin-coated single lipid bilayers in dry conditions Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces , 116, 295-302

We investigate the effects of Cholesterol (Chol) in the structural and nanomechanical properties of binary and ternary spin-coated single lipid bilayers made of Dioleoylphosphatidylcholine (DOPC) and Sphingomyelin (SM) in dry conditions. We show that for the DOPC/Chol bilayers, Chol induces an initial increase of the bilayer thickness, followed by decrease for concentrations above 30% Chol. The mechanical properties, instead, appear practically insensitive to the Chol content. For the SM/Chol bilayers we have observed both the thinning of the bilayer and the decrease of the force necessary to break it for Chol content above 40. mol%. In both binary mixtures phase separation is not observed. For ternary single bilayers of DOPC/SM/Chol, Chol induces phase segregation and the formation of domains resembling lipid rafts. The domains show a thickness and mechanical response clearly distinct from the surrounding phase and dependent on the relative Chol content. Based on the results obtained for the binary mixtures, DOPC- and SM-enriched domains can be identified. We highlight that many of the effects of Chol reported here for the dry multicomponent single lipid bilayers resemble closely those observed in hydrated bilayers, thus offering an additional insight into their properties.

Keywords: AFM, Air-stable lipid layer, Force spectroscopy, Lipid raft, Spin-coating


Gomila, G., Gramse, G., Fumagalli, L., (2014). Finite-size effects and analytical modeling of electrostatic force microscopy applied to dielectric films Nanotechnology , 25, (25), 255702 (11)

A numerical analysis of the polarization force between a sharp conducting probe and a dielectric film of finite lateral dimensions on a metallic substrate is presented with the double objective of (i) determining the conditions under which the film can be approximated by a laterally infinite film and (ii) proposing an analytical model valid in this limit. We show that, for a given dielectric film, the critical diameter above which the film can be modeled as laterally infinite depends not only on the probe geometry, as expected, but mainly on the film thickness. In particular, for films with intermediate to large thicknesses (>100 nm), the critical diameter is nearly independent from the probe geometry and essentially depends on the film thickness and dielectric constant following a relatively simple phenomenological expression. For films that can be considered as laterally infinite, we propose a generalized analytical model valid in the thin-ultrathin limit (<20-50 nm) that reproduces the numerical calculations and the experimental data. Present results provide a general framework under which accurate quantification of electrostatic force microscopy measurements on dielectric films on metallic substrates can be achieved.

Keywords: Dielectric constant, Dielectric films, Electrostatic force microscopy, Quantification, Analytical models, Electric force microscopy, Electrostatic force, Film thickness, Permittivity, Probes, Substrates, Ultrathin films, Accurate quantifications, Electrostatic force microscopy, Finite size effect, Lateral dimension, Metallic substrate, Numerical calculation, Polarization forces, Quantification, Dielectric films


Melo, E., Cárdenes, N., Garreta, E., Luque, T., Rojas, M., Navajas, D., Farré, R., (2014). Inhomogeneity of local stiffness in the extracellular matrix scaffold of fibrotic mouse lungs Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials , 37, 186-195

Lung disease models are useful to study how cell engraftment, proliferation and differentiation are modulated in lung bioengineering. The aim of this work was to characterize the local stiffness of decellularized lungs in aged and fibrotic mice. Mice (2- and 24-month old; 14 of each) with lung fibrosis (N=20) and healthy controls (N=8) were euthanized after 11 days of intratracheal bleomycin (fibrosis) or saline (controls) infusion. The lungs were excised, decellularized by a conventional detergent-based (sodium-dodecyl sulfate) procedure and slices of the acellular lungs were prepared to measure the local stiffness by means of atomic force microscopy. The local stiffness of the different sites in acellular fibrotic lungs was very inhomogeneous within the lung and increased according to the degree of the structural fibrotic lesion. Local stiffness of the acellular lungs did not show statistically significant differences caused by age. The group of mice most affected by fibrosis exhibited local stiffness that were ~2-fold higher than in the control mice: from 27.2±1.64 to 64.8±7.1. kPa in the alveolar septa, from 56.6±4.6 to 99.9±11.7. kPa in the visceral pleura, from 41.1±8.0 to 105.2±13.6. kPa in the tunica adventitia, and from 79.3±7.2 to 146.6±28.8. kPa in the tunica intima. Since acellular lungs from mice with bleomycin-induced fibrosis present considerable micromechanical inhomogeneity, this model can be a useful tool to better investigate how different degrees of extracellular matrix lesion modulate cell fate in the process of organ bioengineering from decellularized lungs.

Keywords: Ageing, Atomic force microscopy, Decellularization, Lung fibrosis, Tissue engineering, Atomic force microscopy, Biological organs, Peptides, Sodium dodecyl sulfate, Sodium sulfate, Tissue engineering, Ageing, Decellularization, Extracellular matrices, Healthy controls, Inhomogeneities, Lung fibrosis, Micro-mechanical, Statistically significant difference, Mammals, bleomycin, adventitia, animal experiment, animal model, article, atomic force microscopy, bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis, cell fate, controlled study, extracellular matrix, female, intima, lung alveolus, lung fibrosis, lung mechanics, mechanical probe, microenvironment, mouse, nonhuman, pleura, priority journal, rigidity, tissue engineering


Torrent-Burgués, J., Cea, P., Giner, I., Guaus, E., (2014). Characterization of Langmuir and Langmuir-Blodgett films of an octasubstituted zinc phthalocyanine Thin Solid Films , 556, 485-494

In this work we report the fabrication of Langmuir and Langmuir-Blodgett (LB) films of a substituted ZnPc (octakis(oxyoctyl)phthalocyanine of zinc), and their characterization by means of several techniques. These characterization techniques include surface pressure (π-A) and surface potential (ΔV-A) isotherms as well as UV-vis Reflection spectroscopy and Brewster Angle Microscopy (BAM) for the films at the air-water interface together with UV-vis absorption and IR spectroscopies and Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) for the LB films. The π-A and ΔV-A isotherms and BAM images indicate a phase transition at a surface pressure of ca. 9 mN/m and a multilayer formation at surface pressures around 19-20 mN/m; at a surface pressure around 27 mN/m a disordered collapse of the film occurs. In addition, AFM images of LB films at π = 10 mN/m and π = 20 mN/m show a monomolecular and a multilayered film, respectively. The comparison of the UV-vis spectrum of ZnPc in solution, the reflection spectra of the Langmuir films and UV-vis spectra of LB films reveals a significant reduction in the Q band intensity for the films, indicative of an organization of ZnPc in the Langmuir and LB films versus the random distribution in solution. The UV-vis Reflection spectra are also consistent with multilayer formation at surface pressures around 19-20 mN/m. The relative intensities of the IR spectrum bands change from the KBr pellet to the LB film which is also attributable to orientation effects in the film. Cyclic voltammetric experiments of LB films incorporating the ZnPc derivative show peaks that can be correlated with redox processes occurring in the phthalocyanine ring. A small but significant influence of the surface pressure and the number of deposited layers in the electrochemical behaviour is observed. The electrochemical response of cast films exhibits some differences with respect to that of LB films which have been attributed to their different molecular organizations.

Keywords: Atomic Force Microscopy, Electrochemistry, Langmuir-Blodgett, Multilayers, Optical spectroscopy techniques, Zinc phthalocyanine, Atomic force microscopy, Electrochemistry, Interfaces (materials), Isotherms, Multilayers, Nitrogen compounds, Optical multilayers, Organic polymers, Zinc compounds, Brewster angle microscopy, Characterization techniques, Electrochemical behaviour, Langmuir and langmuir-blodgett films, Langmuir-blodgett, Optical spectroscopy techniques, UV-Vis Reflection Spectroscopy, Zinc phthalocyanines, Langmuir Blodgett films


Redondo-Morata, L., Giannotti, M. I., Sanz, F., (2014). Structural impact of cations on lipid bilayer models: Nanomechanical properties by AFM-force spectroscopy Molecular Membrane Biology , 31, (1), 17-28

Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) has become an invaluable tool for studying the micro-and nanoworlds. As a stand-alone, high-resolution imaging technique and force transducer, it defies most other surface instrumentation in ease of use, sensitivity and versatility. The main strength of AFM relies on the possibility to operate in an aqueous environment on a wide variety of biological samples, from single molecules-DNA or proteins-to macromolecular assemblies like biological membranes. Understanding the effect of mechanical stress on membranes is of primary importance in biophysics, since cells are known to perform their function under a complex combination of forces. In the later years, AFM-based Force-Spectroscopy (AFM-FS) has provided a new vista on membrane mechanics in a confined area within the nanometer realm, where most of the specific molecular interactions take place. Lipid membranes are electrostatically charged entities that physiologically coexist with electrolyte solutions. Thus, specific interactions with ions are a matter of considerable interest. The distribution of ions in the solution and their interaction with the membranes are factors that substantially modify the structure and dynamics of the cell membranes. Furthermore, signaling processes are modified by the membrane capability of retaining ions. Supported Lipid Bilayers (SLBs) are a versatile tool to investigate phospholipid membranes mimicking biological surfaces. In the present contribution, we review selected experiments on the mechanical stability of SLBs as models of lipid membranes by means of AFM-FS, with special focus on the effect of cations and ionic strength in the overall nanomechanical stability.

Keywords: Atomic force microscopy, Cations, Force spectroscopy, Lipid bilayer, Mechanical stability


Aviles, A. I., Marban, A., Sobrevilla, P., Fernandez, Josep, Casals, A., (2014). A recurrent neural network approach for 3D vision-based force estimation IPTA 2014 4th International Conference on Image Processing Theory, Tools and Applications (IPTA) , IEEE (Paris, France) , 1-6

Robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery has demonstrated its benefits in comparison with traditional procedures. However, one of the major drawbacks of current robotic system approaches is the lack of force feedback. Apart from space restrictions, the main problems of using force sensors are their high cost and the biocompatibility. In this work a proposal based on Vision Based Force Measurement is presented, in which the deformation mapping of the tissue is obtained using the `2−Regularized Optimization class, and the force is estimated via a recurrent neural network that has as inputs the kinematic variables and the deformation mapping. Moreover, the capability of RNN for predicting time series is used in order to deal with tool occlusions. The highlights of this proposal, according to the results, are: knowledge of material properties are not necessary, there is no need of adding extra sensors and a good trade-off between accuracy and efficiency has been achieved.

Keywords: Force estimation, Regularized optimization, Deformable tracking, Recurrent neural network


Rajasekaran, V., Aranda, J., Casals, A., (2014). Handling disturbances on planned trajectories in robotic rehabilitation therapies IFMBE Proceedings XIII Mediterranean Conference on Medical and Biological Engineering and Computing 2013 (ed. Roa Romero, Laura M.), Springer International Publishing (London, UK) 41, 85-88

Robotic rehabilitation therapies are an emerging tool in the field of Neurorehabilitation in order to achieve an effective therapeutic development in the patient. In this paper, the role of disturbances caused by muscle synergies or unpredictable effects of artificial stimulation in muscles during rehabilitation therapies is analyzed. In terms of gait assistance it is also important to maintain synchronized movements to ensure a dynamically stable gait. Although, disturbances affecting joints are corrected by a force control approach, we define two methods to ensure stability and synchronization of joint movements in the trajectory to be followed. The performance of the presented methods is evaluated in comparison with a preplanned trajectory to be followed by the patients.

Keywords: Exoskeleton, Force control, Gait assistance, Neurorobot, Trajectory planning


Marbán, Arturo, Casals, Alicia, Fernández, Josep, Amat, Josep, (2014). Haptic feedback in surgical robotics: Still a challenge Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing ROBOT2013: First Iberian Robotics Conference (ed. Armada, Manuel A., Sanfeliu, Alberto, Ferre, Manuel), Springer International Publishing 252, 245-253

Endowing current surgical robotic systems with haptic feedback to perform minimally invasive surgery (MIS), such as laparoscopy, is still a challenge. Haptic is a feature lost in surgical teleoperated systems limiting surgeons capabilities and ability. The availability of haptics would provide important advantages to the surgeon: Improved tissue manipulation, reducing the breaking of sutures and increase the feeling of telepresence, among others. To design and develop a haptic system, the measurement of forces can be implemented based on two approaches: Direct and indirect force sensing. MIS performed with surgical robots, imposes many technical constraints to measure forces, such as: Miniaturization, need of sterilization or materials compatibility, making it necessary to rely on indirect force sensing. Based on mathematical models of the components involved in an intervention and indirect force sensing techniques, a global perspective on how to address the problem of measurement of tool-tissue interaction forces is presented.

Keywords: Surgical robotics, Haptic feedback, Indirect force sensing, Machine learning, Data fusion, Mathematical models


Barreto, S., Clausen, C. H., Perrault, C. M., Fletcher, D. A., Lacroix, D., (2013). A multi-structural single cell model of force-induced interactions of cytoskeletal components Biomaterials , 34, (26), 6119-6126

Several computational models based on experimental techniques and theories have been proposed to describe cytoskeleton (CSK) mechanics. Tensegrity is a prominent model for force generation, but it cannot predict mechanics of individual CSK components, nor explain the discrepancies from the different single cell stimulating techniques studies combined with cytoskeleton-disruptors. A new numerical concept that defines a multi-structural 3D finite element (FE) model of a single-adherent cell is proposed to investigate the biophysical and biochemical differences of the mechanical role of each cytoskeleton component under loading. The model includes prestressed actin bundles and microtubule within cytoplasm and nucleus surrounded by the actin cortex. We performed numerical simulations of atomic force microscopy (AFM) experiments by subjecting the cell model to compressive loads. The numerical role of the CSK components was corroborated with AFM force measurements on U2OS-osteosarcoma cells and NIH-3T3 fibroblasts exposed to different cytoskeleton-disrupting drugs. Computational simulation showed that actin cortex and microtubules are the major components targeted in resisting compression. This is a new numerical tool that explains the specific role of the cortex and overcomes the difficulty of isolating this component from other networks invitro. This illustrates that a combination ofcytoskeletal structures with their own properties is necessary for a complete description of cellular mechanics.

Keywords: Actin bundles, Actin cortex, AFM (atomic force microscopy), Cytoskeleton, Finite element modeling, Microtubules


Dols-Perez, A., Sisquella, X., Fumagalli, L., Gomila, G., (2013). Optical visualization of ultrathin mica flakes on semitransparent gold substrates Nanoscale Research Letters , 8, (1), 1-5

We show that optical visualization of ultrathin mica flakes on metallic substrates is viable using semitransparent gold as substrates. This enables to easily localize mica flakes and rapidly estimate their thickness directly on gold substrates by conventional optical reflection microscopy. We experimentally demonstrate it by comparing optical images with atomic force microscopy images of mica flakes on semitransparent gold. Present results open the possibility for simple and rapid characterization of thin mica flakes as well as other thin sheets directly on metallic substrates.

Keywords: Atomic force, Conductive AFM, Gold substrates, Metallic substrate, Optical image, Optical reflection, Optical visualization, Ultrathin layers, Atomic force microscopy, Geometrical optics, Gold, Mica, Optical microscopy, Substrates


Sarlabous, L., Torres, A., Fiz, J. A., Morera, J., Jané, R., (2013). Index for estimation of muscle force from mechanomyography based on the Lempel-Ziv algorithm Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology , 23, (3), 548-557

The study of the amplitude of respiratory muscle mechanomyographic (MMG) signals could be useful in clinical practice as an alternative non-invasive technique to assess respiratory muscle strength. The MMG signal is stochastic in nature, and its amplitude is usually estimated by means of the average rectified value (ARV) or the root mean square (RMS) of the signal. Both parameters can be used to estimate MMG activity, as they correlate well with muscle force. These estimations are, however, greatly affected by the presence of structured impulsive noise that overlaps in frequency with the MMG signal. In this paper, we present a method for assessing muscle activity based on the Lempel-Ziv algorithm: the Multistate Lempel-Ziv (MLZ) index. The behaviour of the MLZ index was tested with synthesised signals, with various amplitude distributions and degrees of complexity, and with recorded diaphragm MMG signals. We found that this index, like the ARV and RMS parameters, is positively correlated with changes in amplitude of the diaphragm MMG components, but is less affected by components that have non-random behaviour (like structured impulsive noise). Therefore, the MLZ index could provide more information to assess the MMG-force relationship.

Keywords: Diaphragm, Electromyography, Lempel-Ziv, Mechanomyography, Muscle force, Respiratory muscles


Mir, Mònica , Tahirbegi, Islam Bogachan , Valle-Delgado, Juan José , Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Samitier, Josep , (2012). In vitro study of magnetite-amyloid β complex formation Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine , 8, (6), 974-980

Biogenic magnetite (Fe3O4) has been identified in human brain tissue. However, abnormal concentration of magnetite nanoparticles in the brain has been observed in different neurodegenerative pathologies. In the case of Alzheimer's disease (AD), these magnetic nanoparticles have been identified attached to the characteristic brain plaques, which are mainly formed by fibrils of amyloid β peptide (Aβ). However, few clues about the formation of the magnetite-Aβ complex have been reported. We have investigated the interaction between these important players in the AD with superconducting quantum interference, scanning electron microscope, surface plasmon resonance, and magnetic force microscopy. The results support the notion that the magnetite-Aβ complex is created before the synthesis of the magnetic nanoparticles, bringing a highly stable interaction of this couple.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease, Biogenic magnetite, Amyloid β peptide (Aβ), Superconducting quantum interference, Scanning electron microscope, Surface plasmon resonance, Magnetic force microscopy


Nocentini, S., Reginensi, D., Garcia, S., Carulla, P., Moreno-Flores, Wandosell, F., Trepat, X., Bribian, A., Del Rí, (2012). Myelin-associated proteins block the migration of olfactory ensheathing cells: an in vitro study using single-cell tracking and traction force microscopy Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences , 69, (10), 1689-1703

Newly generated olfactory receptor axons grow from the peripheral to the central nervous system aided by olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs). Thus, OEC transplantation has emerged as a promising therapy for spinal cord injuries and for other neural diseases. However, these cells do not present a uniform population, but instead a functionally heterogeneous population that exhibits a variety of responses including adhesion, repulsion, and crossover during cell–cell and cell–matrix interactions. Some studies report that the migratory properties of OECs are compromised by inhibitory molecules and potentiated by chemical gradients. Here, we demonstrated that rodent OECs express all the components of the Nogo receptor complex and that their migration is blocked by myelin. Next, we used cell tracking and traction force microscopy to analyze OEC migration and its mechanical properties over myelin. Our data relate the decrease of traction force of OEC with lower migratory capacity over myelin, which correlates with changes in the F-actin cytoskeleton and focal adhesion distribution. Lastly, OEC traction force and migratory capacity is enhanced after cell incubation with the Nogo receptor inhibitor NEP1-40.

Keywords: Ensheathing glia, Traction force, microscopy, Migration, Myelin-associated inhibitors


Valle-Delgado, J. J., Liepina, I., Lapidus, D., Sabaté, R., Ventura, S., Samitier, J., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., (2012). Self-assembly of human amylin-derived peptides studied by atomic force microscopy and single molecule force spectroscopy Soft Matter , 8, (4), 1234-1242

The self-assembly of peptides and proteins into amyloid fibrils of nanometric thickness and up to several micrometres in length, a phenomenon widely observed in biological systems, has recently aroused a growing interest in nanotechnology and nanomedicine. Here we have applied atomic force microscopy and single molecule force spectroscopy to study the amyloidogenesis of a peptide derived from human amylin and of its reverse sequence. The spontaneous formation of protofibrils and their orientation along well-defined directions on graphite and DMSO-coated graphite substrates make the studied peptides interesting candidates for nanotechnological applications. The measured binding forces between peptides correlate with the number of hydrogen bonds between individual peptides inside the fibril structure according to molecular dynamics simulations.

Keywords: Amyloid fibril, Amyloidogenesis, Binding forces, Fibril structure, Graphite substrate, Molecular dynamics simulations, Nanometrics, Protofibrils, Single molecule force spectroscopy, Spontaneous formation, Atomic force microscopy, Atomic spectroscopy, Graphite, Hydrogen bonds, Medical nanotechnology, Molecular dynamics, Molecular physics, Self assembly, Thickness measurement, Peptides


Amigo, L. E., Fernandez, Q., Giralt, X., Casals, A., Amat, J., (2012). Study of patient-orthosis interaction forces in rehabilitation therapies IEEE Conference Publications 4th IEEE RAS & EMBS International Conference on Biomedical Robotics and Biomechatronics (BioRob) , IEEE (Roma, Italy) , 1098-1103

The design of mechanical joints that kinematically behave as their biological counterparts is a challenge that if not addressed properly can cause inadequate forces transmission between robot and patient. This paper studies the interaction forces in rehabilitation therapies of the elbow joint. To measure the effect of orthosis-patient misalignments, a force sensor with a novel distributed architecture has been designed and used for this study. A test-bed based on an industrial robot acting as a virtual exoskeleton that emulates the action of a therapist has been developed and the interaction forces analyzed.

Keywords: Force, Force measurement, Force sensors, Joints, Medical treatment, Robot sensing systems, Force sensors, Medical robotics, Patient rehabilitation, Biological counterparts, Distributed architecture, Elbow joint, Force sensor, Inadequate forces transmission, Industrial robot, Mechanical joints design, Orthosis-patient misalignments, Patient-orthosis interaction forces, Rehabilitation therapies, Robot, Test-bed, Virtual exoskeleton


Redondo, L., Giannotti, M. I., Sanz, F., (2012). Stability of lipid bilayers as model membranes: Atomic force microscopy and spectroscopy approach Atomic force microscopy in liquid (ed. Baró, A. M., Reifenberger, R. G.), Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co.KGaA (Weinheim, Germany) Part I: General Atomic Force Microscopy, 259-284

van Zanten, T. S., Garcia-Parajo, M. F., (2012). Super-resolution near-field optical microscopy Comprehensive Biophysics (ed. Egelman, E. H.), Elsevier (Desdren, Germany) Volume 2: Biophysical Techniques for Characterization of Cells, 144-164

Near-field optical microscopy is a technique not limited by the laws of diffraction that enables simultaneous high-resolution fluorescence and topographic measurements at the nanometer scale. This chapter highlights the intrinsic advantages of near-field optics in the study of cellular structures. The first part of the chapter lays the foundations of the near-field concept and technical implementation of near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM), whereas the second part of the chapter focuses on applications of NSOM to the study of model membranes and cellular structures on the plasma membrane. The last part of the chapter discusses further directions of near-field optics, including optical antennas and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy approaches in the near-field regime.

Keywords: Biological membranes, Cell membrane nanoscale compartmentalization, Cellular nanodomains, Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy in reduced volumes, Immunoreceptor imaging, Lipid rafts, Near-field scanning optical microscopy, Optical nano-antennas, Shear force imaging, Single molecule detection, Super-resolution microscopy


Trepat, X., Fredberg, J. J., (2011). Plithotaxis and emergent dynamics in collective cellular migration Trends in Cell Biology , 21, (11), 638-646

For a monolayer sheet to migrate cohesively, it has long been suspected that each constituent cell must exert physical forces not only upon its extracellular matrix but also upon neighboring cells. The first comprehensive maps of these distinct force components reveal an unexpected physical picture. Rather than showing smooth and systematic variation within the monolayer, the distribution of physical forces is dominated by heterogeneity, both in space and in time, which emerges spontaneously, propagates over great distances, and cooperates over the span of many cell bodies. To explain the severe ruggedness of this force landscape and its role in collective cell guidance, the well known mechanisms of chemotaxis, durotaxis, haptotaxis are clearly insufficient. In a broad range of epithelial and endothelial cell sheets, collective cell migration is governed instead by a newly discovered emergent mechanism of innately collective cell guidance - plithotaxis.

Keywords: Positional information, Drosophila embryo, Sheet migration, Dpp gradient, Cells, Force, Morphogenesis, Transition, Identification, Proliferation


Gauthier, Nils C., Fardin, Marc Antoine, Roca-Cusachs, Pere, Sheetz, Michael P., (2011). Temporary increase in plasma membrane tension coordinates the activation of exocytosis and contraction during cell spreading Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, (35), 14467-14472

Cell migration and spreading involve the coordination of membrane trafficking, actomyosin contraction, and modifications to plasma membrane tension and area. The biochemical or biophysical basis for this coordination is however unknown. In this study, we show that during cell spreading, lamellipodia protrusion flattens plasma membrane folds and blebs and, once the plasma membrane area is depleted, there is a temporary increase in membrane tension by over twofold that is followed by activation of exocytosis and myosin contraction. Further, an artificial increase in plasma membrane tension stopped lamellipodia protrusion and activated an exocytotic burst. Subsequent decrease in tension restored spreading with activation of contraction. Conversely, blebbistatin inhibition of actomyosin contraction resulted in an even greater increase in plasma membrane tension and exocytosis activation. This spatio-temporal synchronization indicates that membrane tension is the signal that coordinates membrane trafficking, actomyosin contraction, and plasma membrane area change. We suggest that cells use plasma membrane tension as a global physical parameter to control cell motility.

Keywords: Surface-area regulation, Cytoskeleton adhesion, Erythrocyte-membrane, Extensional flow, Elastic tether, Force


Valle-Delgado, J. J., Molina-Bolívar, J. A., Galisteo-González, F., Gálvez-Ruiz, M. J., (2011). Evidence of hydration forces between proteins Current Opinion in Colloid and Interface Science , 16, (6), 572-578

Proteins are fundamental molecules in biology that are also involved in a wide range of industrial and biotechnological processes. Consequently, many works in the literature have been devoted to the study of protein-protein and protein-surface interactions in aqueous solutions. The results have been usually interpreted within the frame of the classical Derjaguin-Landau-Verwey-Overbeek (DLVO) theory for colloidal systems. However, against the DLVO predictions, striking evidence of repulsive forces between proteins at high salt concentrations has been observed in different works based on the analysis of the second virial coefficient or on the direct measurement of protein interaction with an atomic force microscope. Hydration forces due to the adsorption of hydrated cations onto the negatively charged protein surfaces have been invoked to rationalize this anomalous repulsion. The hydration forces between proteins provide protein-covered particles with a non-DLVO colloidal stability at high salt concentrations, as different studies in the literature has proven. This review summarizes the most relevant results published so far on the presence of hydration forces between proteins and protein-coated colloidal particles.

Keywords: Colloidal particles, Colloidal stability, Hydrated ions, Hydration forces, Proteins


Miranda Coelho, Nuno, Gonzalez-Garcia, Cristina, Salmeron-Sanchez, Manuel, Altankov, George, (2011). Arrangement of type IV collagen and laminin on substrates with controlled density of -OH groups Tissue Engineering Part A , 17, (17-18), 2245-2257

Collagen IV (Col IV) and laminin (Lam) are the main structural components of the basement membrane where they form two overlapping polymeric networks. We studied the adsorption pattern of these proteins on five model surfaces with tailored density of -OH groups obtained by copolymerization of different ratios ethyl acrylate (EA) and hydroxyl EA (HEA): X(OH) = 0, X(OH) = 0.3, X(OH) = 0.5, X(OH) = 0.7, and X(OH) = 1 (where X refers the ratio of HEA). Atomic force microscopy revealed substratum-specific adsorption patterns of Col IV and Lam, ranging from single molecules deposition on more hydrophilic substrata to the formation of complex networks on hydrophobic ones. Human umbilical endothelial cells were used to study the biological performance of adsorbed proteins, following the overall cell morphology, the quantities for cell adhesion and spreading, and the development of focal adhesion complexes and actin cytoskeleton. Surprisingly, two optima in the cellular interaction were observed-one on the most hydrophilic X(OH) = 1 and other on the relatively hydrophobic X(OH) = 0.3 substrate-valid for both Col IV and Lam. When the proteins were adsorbed consecutively, a hydrophobic shift to X(OH) = 0 substratum was obtained. Collectively, these data suggest that varying with the density of -OH groups one can tailor the conformation and the functional activity of adsorbed basement membrane proteins.

Keywords: Atomic-force microscopy, Fibronectin adsorption, Basement-membranes, Polymer surfaces, Cell-adhesion, Biomaterials, Wettability, Fibrinogen


Krishnan, Ramaswamy, Klumpers, Darinka D., Park, Chan Y., Rajendran, Kavitha, Trepat, Xavier, van Bezu, Jan, van Hinsbergh, Victor W. M., Carman, Christopher V., Brain, Joseph D., Fredberg, Jeffrey J., Butler, James P., van Nieuw Amerongen, Geerten P., (2011). Substrate stiffening promotes endothelial monolayer disruption through enhanced physical forces American Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology , 300, (1), C146-C154

A hallmark of many, sometimes life-threatening, inflammatory diseases and disorders is vascular leakage. The extent and severity of vascular leakage is broadly mediated by the integrity of the endothelial cell (EC) monolayer, which is in turn governed by three major interactions: cell-cell and cell-substrate contacts, soluble mediators, and biomechanical forces. A potentially critical but essentially uninvestigated component mediating these interactions is the stiffness of the substrate to which the endothelial monolayer is adherent. Accordingly, we investigated the extent to which substrate stiffening influences endothelial monolayer disruption and the role of cell-cell and cell-substrate contacts, soluble mediators, and physical forces in that process. Traction force microscopy showed that forces between cell and cell and between cell and substrate were greater on stiffer substrates. On stiffer substrates, these forces were substantially enhanced by a hyperpermeability stimulus (thrombin, 1 U/ml), and gaps formed between cells. On softer substrates, by contrast, these forces were increased far less by thrombin, and gaps did not form between cells. This stiffness-dependent force enhancement was associated with increased Rho kinase activity, whereas inhibition of Rho kinase attenuated baseline forces and lessened thrombin-induced inter-EC gap formation. Our findings demonstrate a central role of physical forces in EC gap formation and highlight a novel physiological mechanism. Integrity of the endothelial monolayer is governed by its physical microenvironment, which in normal circumstances is compliant but during pathology becomes stiffer.

Keywords: Contraction, Human umbilical vein endothelial cells, Permeability, Traction force, Cell-cell contact, Cell-substrate contact, Substrate stiffness, Rho kinase, Vascular endothelial cadherin, Thrombin


A. Mathur, P. Roca-Cusachs, O. M. Rossier, S. J. Wind, M. P. Sheetz, J. Hone, (2011). New approach for measuring protrusive forces in cells Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology B: Microelectronics and Nanometer Structures , 29, (6), 06FA02

Trepat, X., Fabry, B., Fredberg, J. J., (2010). Pulling it together in three dimensions Nature Methods , 7, (12), 963-965

The most abundant proteins in our cells are there to generate mechanical forces, and measurement of these forces has just become possible.

Keywords: Mechanical forces


Moore, S. W., Roca-Cusachs, P., Sheetz, M. P., (2010). Stretchy proteins on stretchy substrates: The important elements of integrin-mediated rigidity sensing Developmental Cell , 19, (2), 194-206

Matrix and tissue rigidity guides many cellular processes, including the differentiation of stem cells and the migration of cells in health and disease. Cells actively and transiently test rigidity using mechanisms limited by inherent physical parameters that include the strength of extracellular attachments, the pulling capacity on these attachments, and the sensitivity of the mechanotransduction system. Here, we focus on rigidity sensing mediated through the integrin family of extracellular matrix receptors and linked proteins and discuss the evidence supporting these proteins as mechanosensors.

Keywords: Focal adhesion kinase, Atomic Force Microscopy, Smooth-muscle cells, Traction forces, Living cells, Mechanical force, Locomoting cells


Garcia-Manyes, S., Redondo-Morata, L., Oncins, G., Sanz, F., (2010). Nanomechanics of lipid bilayers: Heads or tails? Journal of the American Chemical Society American Chemical Society 132, (37), 12874-12886

Understanding the effect of mechanical stress on membranes is of primary importance in biophysics. Here we use force spectroscopy AFM to quantitatively characterize the nanomechanical stability of supported lipid bilayers as a function of their chemical composition. The onset of plastic deformation reveals itself as a repetitive jump in the approaching force curve, which represents a molecular fingerprint for the bilayer mechanical stability. By systematically probing a set of chemically distinct supported lipid bilayers (SLBs), we first show that both the headgroup and tail have a decisive effect on their mechanical properties. While the mechanical stability of the probed SLBs linearly increases by 3.3 nN upon the introduction of each additional -CH2- in the chain, it exhibits a significant dependence on the phospholipid headgroup, ranging from 3 nN for DPPA to 66 nN for DPPG. Furthermore, we also quantify the reduction of the membrane mechanical stability as a function of the number of unsaturations and molecular branching in the chemical structure of the apolar tails. Finally, we demonstrate that, upon introduction of cholesterol and ergosterol, contrary to previous belief the mechanical stability of membranes not only increases linearly in the liquid phase (DLPC) but also for phospholipids present in the gel phase (DPPC). Our results are discussed in the framework of the continuum nucleation model. This work highlights the compelling effect of subtle variations in the chemical structure of phospholipid molecules on the membrane response when exposed to mechanical forces, a mechanism of common occurrence in nature.

Keywords: Atomic-force microscopy, Molecular-dynamics simulation, Aqueous-electrolyte solutions, Supported planar membranes, Phospholipid-bilayers, Biological-membranes, Physical-properties, Fluid membranes, Model membranes, Chain-length


Angelini, T. E., Hannezo, E., Trepat, X., Fredberg, J. J., Weitz, D. A., (2010). Cell migration driven by cooperative substrate deformation patterns Physical Review Letters , 104, (16), 168104

Most eukaryotic cells sense and respond to the mechanical properties of their surroundings. This can strongly influence their collective behavior in embryonic development, tissue function, and wound healing. We use a deformable substrate to measure collective behavior in cell motion due to substrate mediated cell-cell interactions. We quantify spatial and temporal correlations in migration velocity and substrate deformation, and show that cooperative cell-driven patterns of substrate deformation mediate long-distance mechanical coupling between cells and control collective cell migration.

Keywords: Movement, Morphogenesis, Stiffness, Forces, Flocks


Garcia-Manyes, S., Sanz, F., (2010). Nanomechanics of lipid bilayers by force spectroscopy with AFM: A perspective Biochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes , 1798, (4), 741-749

Lipid bilayers determine the architecture of cell membranes and regulate a myriad of distinct processes that are highly dependent on the lateral organization of the phospholipid molecules that compose the membrane. Indeed, the mechanochemical properties of the membrane are strongly correlated with the function of several membrane proteins, which demand a very specific, highly localized physicochemical environment to perform their function. Several mesoscopic techniques have been used in the past to investigate the mechanical properties of lipid membranes. However, they were restricted to the study of the ensemble properties of giant bilayers. Force spectroscopy with AFM has emerged as a powerful technique able to provide valuable insights into the nanomechanical properties of supported lipid membranes at the nanometer/nanonewton scale in a wide variety of systems. In particular, these measurements have allowed direct measurement of the molecular interactions arising between neighboring phospholipid molecules and between the lipid molecules and the surrounding solvent environment. The goal of this review is to illustrate how these novel experiments have provided a new vista on membrane mechanics in a confined area within the nanometer realm, where most of the specific molecular interactions take place. Here we report in detail the main discoveries achieved by force spectroscopy with AFM on supported lipid bilayers, and we also discuss on the exciting future perspectives offered by this growing research field.

Keywords: Force spectroscopy, Atomic force microscopy, Lipid bilayer, Nanomechanics


Toset, J., Gomila, G., (2010). Three-dimensional manipulation of gold nanoparticles with electro-enhanced capillary forces Applied Physics Letters , 96, (4), 043117

We demonstrate the possibility to manipulate 25 nm radius gold nanoparticles in the three spatial dimensions with an atomic force microscope with the use of electroenhanced capillary forces. We show that an enhanced water-bridge can be electrostatically induced between a conducting probe and a metallic nanoparticle by the application of a voltage pulse, which is able to exert a pulling capillary force on the nanoparticle strong enough to detach it from the substrate. The nanoparticle can then be moved, attached to the probe, and placed back to the desired location on the substrate simply by contacting it.

Keywords: Atomic force microscopy, Capillarity, Gold, Nanoparticles, Nanotechnology


Hofer, M., Adamsmaier, S., van Zanten, T. S., Chtcheglova, L. A., Manzo, C., Duman, M., Mayer, B., Ebner, A., Moertelmaier, M., Kada, G., Garcia-Parajo, M. F., Hinterdorfer, P., Kienberger, F., (2010). Molecular recognition imaging using tuning fork-based transverse dynamic force microscopy Ultramicroscopy , 110, (6), 605-611

We demonstrate simultaneous transverse dynamic force microscopy and molecular recognition imaging using tuning forks as piezoelectric sensors. Tapered aluminum-coated glass fibers were chemically functionalized with biotin and anti-lysozyme molecules and attached to one of the prongs of a 32 kHz tuning fork. The lateral oscillation amplitude of the tuning fork was used as feedback signal for topographical imaging of avidin aggregates and lysozyme molecules on mica substrate. The phase difference between the excitation and detection signals of the tuning fork provided molecular recognition between avidin/biotin or lysozyme/anti-lysozyme. Aggregates of avidin and lysozyme molecules appeared as features with heights of 1-4 nm in the topographic images, consistent with single molecule atomic force microscopy imaging. Recognition events between avidin/biotin or lysozyme/anti-lysozyme were detected in the phase image at high signal-to-noise ratio with phase shifts of 1-2 degrees. Because tapered glass fibers and shear-force microscopy based on tuning forks are commonly used for near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM), these results open the door to the exciting possibility of combining optical, topographic and biochemical recognition at the nanometer scale in a single measurement and in liquid conditions.

Keywords: Tuning fork, Atomic force microscopy, Shear-force microscopy, Molecular recognition, Avidin-biotin


de Oliveira, I. A. M., Vocanson, F., Uttaro, J. P., Asfari, Z., Mills, C. A., Samitier, J., Errachid, A., (2010). Characterization of a self-assembled monolayer based on a calix[4]crown-5 derivate: fabrication of a chemical sensor sensitive to calcium Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology , 10, (1), 413-420

The synthesis and self-assembled monolayer (SAM) formation of a calix[4]crown-5 derivative are reported. Several techniques, including electrochemistry, atomic force microscopy (AFM), Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) and contact angle measurements have been applied to characterise the monolayer film designed for chemical sensor applications. The recognition properties of this SAM for metal cations has been investigated using impedance spectroscopy (IS) showing an electrochemical response proportional to calcium ion concentration in the range from 10(-7) M to 10(-2) M. This response is related to microscopic changes at the gold surface induced by selective binding by the immobilised calixarene.

Keywords: Calixarenes, Self assembled monolayer, Micro-contact printing, Atomic force microscopy, Impedance spectroscopy


Caballero, D., Villanueva, G., Plaza, J. A., Mills, C. A., Samitier, J., Errachid, A., (2010). Sharp high-aspect-ratio AFM tips fabricated by a combination of deep reactive ion etching and focused ion beam techniques Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology , 10, (1), 497-501

The shape and dimensions of an atomic force microscope tip are crucial factors to obtain high resolution images at the nanoscale. When measuring samples with narrow trenches, inclined sidewalls near 90 or nanoscaled structures, standard silicon atomic force microscopy (AFM) tips do not provide satisfactory results. We have combined deep reactive ion etching (DRIE) and focused ion beam (FIB) lithography techniques in order to produce probes with sharp rocket-shaped silicon AFM tips for high resolution imaging. The cantilevers were shaped and the bulk micromachining was performed using the same DRIE equipment. To improve the tip aspect ratio we used FIB nanolithography technique. The tips were tested on narrow silicon trenches and over biological samples showing a better resolution when compared with standard AFM tips, which enables nanocharacterization and nanometrology of high-aspect-ratio structures and nanoscaled biological elements to be completed, and provides an alternative to commercial high aspect ratio AFM tips.

Keywords: Atomic-Force Microscope, Carbon nanotube tips, Probes, Roughness, Cells, Microfabrication, Calibration, Surfaces


Fumagalli, L., Ferrari, G., Sampietro, M., Gomila, G., (2009). Quantitative nanoscale dielectric microscopy of single-layer supported biomembranes Nano Letters , 9, (4), 1604-1608

We present the experimental demonstration of low-frequency dielectric constant imaging of single-layer supported biomembranes at the nanoscale. The dielectric constant image has been quantitatively reconstructed by combining the thickness and local capacitance obtained using a scanning force microscope equipped with a sub-attofarad low-frequency capacitance detector. This work opens new possibilities for studying bioelectric phenomena and the dielectric properties of biological membranes at the nanoscale.

Keywords: Atomic-force microscopy, Nnear-field microscopy, Purple membrane, Scanning capacitance, Biological-systems, Fluid, Spectroscopy, Resolution, Proteins, Dynamics


Roca-Cusachs, P., Gauthier, N. C., del Rio, A., Sheetz, M. P., (2009). Clustering of alpha(5)beta(1) integrins determines adhesion strength whereas alpha(v)beta(3) and talin enable mechanotransduction Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106, (38), 16245-16250

A key molecular link between cells and the extracellular matrix is the binding between fibronectin and integrins alpha(5)beta(1) and alpha(v)beta(3). However, the roles of these different integrins in establishing adhesion remain unclear. We tested the adhesion strength of fibronectin-integrin-cytoskeleton linkages by applying physiological nanonewton forces to fibronectin-coated magnetic beads bound to cells. We report that the clustering of fibronectin domains within 40 nm led to integrin alpha(5)beta(1) recruitment, and increased the ability to sustain force by over six-fold. This force was supported by alpha(5)beta(1) integrin clusters. Importantly, we did not detect a role of either integrin alpha(v)beta(3) or talin 1 or 2 in maintaining adhesion strength. Instead, these molecules enabled the connection to the cytoskeleton and reinforcement in response to an applied force. Thus, high matrix forces are primarily supported by clustered alpha(5)beta(1) integrins, while less stable links to alpha(v)beta(3) integrins initiate mechanotransduction, resulting in reinforcement of integrin-cytoskeleton linkages through talin-dependent bonds.

Keywords: Cell-adhesion, Mechanical force, Vinculin-binding, Fibronectin, Activation, Dynamics, Domain, Alpha-v-beta-3, Translocation, Bonds


Pla, D., Sischka, A., Albericio, F., Alvarez, M., Fernàndez-Busquets, X., Anselmetti, D., (2009). Optical-tweezers study of topoisomerase inhibition Small , 5, (11), 1269-1272

Optical tweezers force-stretching of highly nicked dsDNA, as indicated by the large hysteresis area (black and red curves). Topoisomerase activity is evidenced by a higher level plateau and a complete vanishing of the overstretching hysteresis (green curve), indicating total repair of the DNA nicks. The arrow indicates a drop in the stretching curve resulting from topoisomerase cleavage during the cycle.

Keywords: Atomic force microscopy, DNA, Lamellarin D, Optical tweezers, Topoisomerase


Torres, A., Fiz, J. A., Jané, R., Laciar, E., Galdiz, J. B., Gea, J., Morera, J., (2008). Renyi entropy and Lempel-Ziv complexity of mechanomyographic recordings of diaphragm muscle as indexes of respiratory effort IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society Conference Proceedings 30th Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (ed. IEEE), IEEE (Vancouver, Canada) 1-8, 2112-2115

The study of the mechanomyographic (MMG) signals of respiratory muscles is a promising technique in order to evaluate the respiratory muscles effort. A new approach for quantifying the relationship between respiratory MMG signals and respiratory effort is presented by analyzing the spatiotemporal patterns in the MMG signal using two non-linear methods: Renyi entropy and Lempel-Ziv (LZ) complexity analysis. Both methods are well suited to the analysis of non-stationary biomedical signals of short length. In this study, MMG signals of the diaphragm muscle acquired by means of a capacitive accelerometer applied on the costal wall were analyzed. The method was tested on an animal model (dogs), and the diaphragmatic MMG signal was recorded continuously while two non anesthetized mongrel dogs performed a spontaneous ventilation protocol with an incremental inspiratory load. The performance in discriminating high and low respiratory effort levels with these two methods was analyzed with the evaluation of the Pearson correlation coefficient between the MMG parameters and respiratory effort parameters extracted from the inspiratory pressure signal. The results obtained show an increase of the MMG signal Renyi entropy and LZ complexity values with the increase of the respiratory effort. Compared with other parameters analyzed in previous works, both Renyi entropy and LZ complexity indexes demonstrates better performance in all the signals analyzed. Our results suggest that these non-linear techniques are useful to detect and quantify changes in the respiratory effort by analyzing MMG respiratory signals.

Keywords: Sound, Force


Torrent-Burgues, J., Oncins, G., Sanz, F., (2008). Study of mixed Langmuir and Langmuir-Blodgett films of dissimilar components by AFM and force spectroscopy Colloids and Surfaces a-Physicochemical and Engineering Aspects 12th International Conference on Organized Molecular Films , Elsevier Science (Krakow, Poland) 321, (1-3), 70-75

In this study the structure of mixed Langmuir-Blodgett (LB) monolayers has been investigated using atomic force microscopy, lateral force microscopy and force spectroscopy, as well as the characteristics of the Langmuir monolayers by surface pressure-area isotherms and Brewster angle microscopy. Mixed films were of dissimilar compounds, a fatty acid such as arachidic acid and a macrocyclic compound. The mixture forms separated phases, but some degree of partial miscibility occurs, with domains at the micro-scale that have different nanomechanical and nanotribological properties. LB films transferred at the same surface pressure show different characteristics depending on the composition. The higher domains correspond to arachidic acid and some of these domains show the presence of two phases, which have been identified as phases with discrete molecular tilting angles.

Keywords: Mixed monolayers, Pressure-area isotherm, Langmuir-Blodgett, AFM, Force spectroscopy