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Cell poking: quantitative analysis of indentation of thick viscoelastic layers

Biophysical Journal
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0006-3495(89)82867-x
  • Philosophy


A recently introduced device, the cell poker, measures the force required to indent the exposed surface of a cell adherent to a rigid substratum. The cell poker has provided phenomenological information about the viscoelastic properties of several different types of cells, about mechanical changes triggered by external stimuli, and about the role of the cytoskeleton in these mechanical functions. Except in special cases, however, it has not been possible to extract quantitative estimates of viscosity and elasticity moduli from cell poker measurements. This paper presents cell poker measurements of well characterized viscoelastic polymeric materials, polydimethylsiloxanes of different degrees of polymerization, in a simple shape, a flat, thick layer, which for our purposes can be treated as a half space. Analysis of the measurements in terms of a linear viscoelasticity theory yields viscosity values for three polymer samples in agreement with those determined by measurements on a macroscopic scale. Theoretical analysis further indicates that the measured limiting static elasticity of the layers may result from the tension generated at the interface between the polymer and water. This work demonstrates the possibility of obtaining quantitative viscoelastic material properties from cell poker measurements and represents the first step in extending these quantitative studies to more complicated structures including cells.

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