Various cellular activities such as motility, division, and endocytosis involve a change in the cell shape. The mechanical interactions between the cell membrane and cytoskeleton play an important role in regulating changes in the cell shape. Tether formation from cell membranes provides a technique to characterize the mechanical properties of cell membranes and membrane-cytoskeleton interactions. Accurate measurement of the nano-scale tether diameter is relevant to quantification of membrane tension, bending modulus, and adhesion energy of the membrane-cytoskeleton structure. We have integrated optical tweezers with quantitative phase imaging, based on spatial light interference microscopy (SLIM), to simultaneously form tethers from HEK-293 cells and measure their diameters. Tether thickness along the illumination axis was measured using the quantitative phase map of the sample, and the refractive index (RI) mismatch between the sample and the surrounding media. The RI of the tethers ranged from 1.354 to 1.368 (cell culture medium RI=1.337). Our SLIM imaging system provided a 38 nm resolution in tether thickness measurements. Tether diameter fluctuations of <100 nm were resolved on tethers that ranged between 600-900 nm in diameter. Our integrated platform also provides the ability to simultaneously manipulate and image cell organelles in a non-contact and marker-free manner at nanometer spatial resolution.
Optical tweezers have become an important instrument in force measurements associated with various physical, biological, and biophysical phenomena. Quantitative use of optical tweezers relies on accurate calibration of the stiffness of the optical trap. Using the same optical tweezers platform operating at 1064 nm and beads with two different diameters, we present a comparative study of viscous drag force, equipartition theorem, Boltzmann statistics, and power spectral density (PSD) as methods in calibrating the stiffness of a single beam gradient force optical trap at trapping laser powers in the range of 0.05 to 1.38 W at the focal plane. The equipartition theorem and Boltzmann statistic methods demonstrate a linear stiffness with trapping laser powers up to 355 mW, when used in conjunction with video position sensing means. The PSD of a trapped particle’s Brownian motion or measurements of the particle displacement against known viscous drag forces can be reliably used for stiffness calibration of an optical trap over a greater range of trapping laser powers. Viscous drag stiffness calibration method produces results relevant to applications where trapped particle undergoes large displacements, and at a given position sensing resolution, can be used for stiffness calibration at higher trapping laser powers than the PSD method.