Three-dimensional force microscopy of cells in biopolymer networks

Julian Steinwachs, Claus Metzner, Kai Skodzek, Nadine Lang, Ingo Thievessen, Christoph Mark, Stefan Münster, Katerina E. Aifantis, Ben Fabry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

216 Scopus citations


We describe a technique for the quantitative measurement of cell-generated forces in highly nonlinear three-dimensional biopolymer networks that mimic the physiological situation of living cells. We computed forces of MDA-MB-231 breast carcinoma cells from the measured network deformations around the cells using a finite-element approach based on a constitutive equation that captures the complex mechanical properties of diverse biopolymers such as collagen gels, fibrin gels and Matrigel. Our measurements show that breast carcinoma cells cultured in collagen gels generated nearly constant forces regardless of the collagen concentration and matrix stiffness. Furthermore, time-lapse force measurements showed that these cells migrated in a gliding motion with alternating phases of high and low contractility, elongation, migratory speed and persistence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-176
Number of pages6
JournalNature Methods
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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