Rev Sci Instrum 2018 Jan;89(1):014901
University Bordeaux, CNRS, UMR 5295, I2M, F-33400 Talence, France.
Laser-generated GHz-ultrasonic-based technologies have shown the ability to image single cell adhesion and stiffness simultaneously. Using this new modality, we here demonstrate quantitative indicators to investigate contact mechanics and adhesion processes of the cell. We cultured human cells on a rigid substrate, and we used an inverted pulsed opto-acoustic microscope to generate acoustic pulses containing frequencies up to 100 GHz in the substrate. We map the reflection of the acoustic pulses at the cell-substrate interface to obtain images of the acoustic impedance of the cell, Z, as well as of the stiffness of the interface, K, with 1 μm lateral resolution. Our results show that the standard deviation ΔZ reveals differences between different cell types arising from the multiplicity of local conformations within the nucleus. From the distribution of K-values within the nuclear region, we extract a mean interfacial stiffness, K, that quantifies the average contact force in areas of the cell displaying weak bonding. By analogy with classical contact mechanics, we also define the ratio of the real to nominal contact areas, S/S. We show that K can be interpreted as a quantitative indicator of passive contact at metal-cell interfaces, while S/S is sensitive to active adhesive processes in the nuclear region. The ability to separate the contributions of passive and active adhesion processes should allow gaining insight into cell-substrate interactions, with important applications in tissue engineering.