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AFM indentation study of breast cancer cells.


Mechanical properties of individual living cells are known to be closely related to the health and function of the human body. Here, atomic force microscopy (AFM) indentation using a micro-sized spherical probe was carried out to characterize the elasticity of benign (MCF-10A) and cancerous (MCF-7) human breast epithelial cells. AFM imaging and confocal fluorescence imaging were also used to investigate their corresponding sub-membrane cytoskeletal structures. Malignant (MCF-7) breast cells were found to have an apparent Young's modulus significantly lower (1.4-1.8 times) than that of their non-malignant (MCF-10A) counterparts at physiological temperature (37 degrees C), and their apparent Young's modulus increase with loading rate. Both confocal and AFM images showed a significant difference in the organization of their sub-membrane actin structures which directly contribute to their difference in cell elasticity. This change may have facilitated easy migration and invasion of malignant cells during metastasis.