Information on plasma membrane (PM) and cell wall mechanical properties is important for many biophysical applications, especially for those, which involve cells, undergoing significant mechanical stress (red blood cells, outer hair cells, fibrocytes, etc.). Optical tweezers is frequently used to study PM mechanics, particularly by pulling long PM tethers. One of the limitations on using optical tweezers to study cell wall mechanics is associated with transillumination technique of the trapped object position sensing, which prevents accurate mechanical testing in the proximity to the cell. In this work we use an optical tweezers in conjunction with a position-sensing system, which spectrally separates signals from the trapped fluorescent microsphere and imaging background. We have used this setup to study mechanics of the cell wall and PM separated from the underlying cytoskeleton on human embryonic kidney cells. We measured the force exerted by the cell on the trapped microsphere as a function of the cell wall displacement during the process of tether formation, and as a function of time during the process of tether growth and relaxation. Tethering force - cell wall displacement profiles have shown a behavior, implying that tether formation process starts with elastic deformation of the intact cell wall, followed by the plastic deformations and sliding of the PM over the underlying cytoskeleton, and ends with the local separation of a PM. Tethering force - cell wall displacement profiles have been used to estimate tether formation force, stiffness parameter of the cell wall and the works of tether formation, elastic and plastic deformations of the cell wall, related to the mechanical properties of a composite cell wall and cell wall - plasma membrane association strength. Temporal steady-state and relaxation tethering force profiles have been similar to the ones measured using transillumination position sensing, however average force values have been smaller in our case, due to the methodological differences. Our results demonstrate that measurements of cell wall and PM mechanical properties using optically-trapped fluorescent microspheres presents a versatile technology for studying of the cellular mechanics, especially effective in the proximity of the trapped microsphere to the cell.
An optical tweezers system was used to study the mechanical characteristics of the outer hair cell (OHC) lateral wall by forming plasma membrane tethers. A 2nd order generalized Kelvin model was applied to describe the viscoelastic behavior of OHC membrane tethers. The measured parameters included equilibrium tethering force, (Feq), force relaxation times (τ), stiffness values (κ), and coefficients of friction (μ). An analysis of force relaxation in membrane tethers indicated that the force decay is a biphasic process containing both an elastic and a viscous phase. In general, we observed an overall negative trend in the measured parameters upon application of the cationic amphipath chlorpromazine (CPZ). CPZ was found to cause up to a 40 pN reduction in Feq in OHCs. A statistically significant reduction in relaxation times and coefficients of friction was also observed, suggesting an increase in rate of force decay and a decrease in plasma membrane viscosity.
Outer hair cells contribute an active mechanical feedback to the vibrations of the cochlear structures resulting in the high sensitivity and frequency selectivity of normal hearing. We have designed and implemented a novel experimental setup that combines optical tweezers with patch-clamp apparatus to investigate the electromechanical properties of cellular plasma membranes. A micron-size bead trapped by the optical tweezers is brought in contact with the membrane of a voltage-clamped cell, and subsequently moved away to form a plasma membrane tether. Bead displacement during tether elongation is monitored by a quadrant photodetector to obtain time-resolved measurements of the tethering force. Salient information associated with the mechanical properties of the membrane tether can thus be obtained. Tethers can be pulled from the cell membrane at different holding potentials, and the tether force response can be measured while changing transmembrane potential. Experimental results from outer hair cells and human embryonic kidney cells are presented.
An optical tweezers system was used to study the mechanical characteristics of outer hair cell (OHC) and human embryonic kidney (HEK) cell plasma membranes. The effect of the cationic amphipath chlorpromazine (CPZ) on the equilibrium tethering force, (Feq) force relaxation time constant,(τ) and effective membrane viscosity (ηeff) was measured. The Feq for the OHC lateral wall plasma membrane was ~60 pN and was unchanged by addition of CPZ. A significantly greater τ value was observed in CPZ-treated OHCs (30.5 ± 12.6 s) than in control OHCs (19.0 ± 13.2 s). The Feq and τ values for control HEK cells were >60% lower than the respective OHC values but increased by ~3 times following CPZ addition. Effective viscosity ranged between 1.49-1.81 pN•s/μm for CPZ-treated OHCs. This represents a decrease from reported control OHC membrane viscosities.