The stiffness or rigidity of the extracellular matrix (ECM) regulates cell response. Established mechanical tests to measure stiffness, such as indentation and tensile tests, are invasive and destructive to the sample. Endogenous or native molecules to cells and ECM components, like tryptophan and cross-links of collagen, display fluorescence upon irradiation with ultraviolet light. Most likely, the concentration of these endogenous fluorophores changes as the stiffness of the ECM changes. In this work we investigate the endogenous fluorescence of collagen gels containing fibroblasts as a non-invasive non-destructive method to measure stiffness of the ECM. Human fibroblast cells were cultured in three-dimensional gels of type I collagen (50,000 cells/ml). This construct is a simple model of tissue contraction. During contraction, changes in the excitation-emission matrix (a fluorescence map in the 240-520/290-530 nm range) of constructs were measured with a spectrofluoremeter, and changes in stiffness were measured with a standard indentation test over 16 days. Results show that a progressive increase in fluorescence of the 290/340 nm excitation-emission pair correlates with a progressive increase in stiffness (r=0.9, α=0.5). The fluorescence of this excitation-emission pair is ascribed to tryptophan and variations in the fluorescence of this pair correlate with cellular proliferation. In this tissue model, the endogenous functional fluorescence of proliferating fibroblast cells is a biomechanical marker of stiffness of the ECM.
J. P. Padilla-Martinez, A. Ortega-Martinez, and W. Franco, "The endogenous fluorescence of fibroblast in collagen gels as indicator of stiffness of the extracellular matrix," Proc. SPIE 9710, Optical Elastography and Tissue Biomechanics III, 971005 (Presented at SPIE BiOS: February 13, 2016; Published: 9 March 2016); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2211184.
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