Revealing elasticity of largely deformed cells flowing along confining microchannels

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Deformability is a hallmark of malignant tumor cells. Characterizing cancer cell deformation can reveal how cancer cell metastasizes through tiny gaps in tissues. However, many previous reports only focus on the cancer cell behaviors under small deformation regimes, which may not be representative for the behaviors under large deformations as in the in vivo metastatic processes. Here, we investigate a wide range of cell elasticity using our recently developed confining microchannel arrays. We develop a relation between the elastic modulus and cell shape under different deformation levels based on a modified contact theory and the hyperelastic Tatara theory. We demonstrate good agreements between the model prediction and experimental results. Strikingly, we discover a clear 'modulus jump' of largely deformed cells compared to that of small deformed cells, offering further biomechanical properties of the cells. Likely, such a modulus jump can be considered as a label-free marker reflecting the elasticity of intracellular components including the nucleus during cell translocation in capillaries and tissue constrictions. In essence, we perform cell classification based on the distinct micromechanical properties of four cell lines, i.e. one normal cell line (MCF-10A) and three cancer cell lines (MCF-7, MDA-MB-231 and PC3) and achieved reasonable efficiencies (efficiency >65%). Finally, we study the correlation between large-deformational elasticity and translocation rates of the floating cells in the microchannels. Together, our results demonstrate the quantitative analysis of the biomechanical properties of single floating cells, which provide an additional label-free physical biomarker toward more effective cancer diagnosis.




Hu, S., Wang, R., Tsang, C. M., Tsao, S. W., Sun, D., & Lam, R. H. W. (2018). Revealing elasticity of largely deformed cells flowing along confining microchannels. RSC Advances, 8(2), 1030–1038.

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