Int J Biol Sci 2011; 7(1):102-111. doi:10.7150/ijbs.7.102

Research Paper

Local Rheology of Human Neutrophils Investigated Using Atomic Force Microscopy

Yong J. Lee1, Dipika Patel2, Soyeun Park2

1. School of Mechanical Engineering, Kyungpook National University, Daegu, South Korea
2. Department of Physics, Texas Tech University, Box 41051, Lubbock, TX 79409

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Lee YJ, Patel D, Park S. Local Rheology of Human Neutrophils Investigated Using Atomic Force Microscopy. Int J Biol Sci 2011; 7(1):102-111. doi:10.7150/ijbs.7.102. Available from

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During the immune response, neutrophils display localized mechanical events by interacting with their environment through the micro-vascular transit, trans-endothelial, and trans-epithelial migration. Nano-mechanical studies of human neutrophils on localized nano-domains could provide the essential information for understanding their immune responsive functions. Using the Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) - based micro-rheology, we have investigated rheological properties of the adherent human neutrophils on local nano-domains. We have applied the modified Hertz model to obtain the viscoelastic moduli from the relatively thick body regions of the neutrophils. In addition, by using more advanced models to account for the substrate effects, we have successfully characterized the rheological properties of the thin leading and tail regions as well. We found a regional difference in the mechanical compliances of the adherent neutrophils. The central regions of neutrophils were significantly stiffer (1,548 ± 871 Pa) than the regions closer to the leading edge (686 ± 801 Pa), while the leading edge and the tail (494 ± 537 Pa) regions were mechanically indistinguishable. The frequency-dependent elastic and viscous moduli also display a similar regional difference. Over the studied frequency range (100 to 300 Hz), the complex viscoelastic moduli display the partial rubber plateau behavior where the elastic moduli are greater than the viscous moduli for a given frequency. The non-disparaging viscous modulus indicates that the neutrophils display a viscoelastic dynamic behavior rather than a perfect elastic behavior like polymer gels. In addition, we found no regional difference in the structural damping coefficient between the leading edge and the cell body. Thus, we conclude that despite the lower loss and storage moduli, the leading edges of the human neutrophils display partially elastic properties similar to the cell body. These results suggest that the lower elastic moduli in the leading edges are more favorable for the elastic fluctuation of actin filaments, which supports the polymerization of the actin filaments leading to the active protrusion during the immune response.

Keywords: Atomic force microscopy, neutrophils, micro-rheology, viscoelasticity, nano-indentation, Young's modulus