A fully submersible force transducer system for use with isolated heart cells has been implemented using microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology. By using integrated circuit fabrication techniques to make mechanical as well as electrical components, the entire low-mass transducer is only a few cubic millimeters in size and is of higher fidelity (approximately 100 nN and 13.3 kHz in solution) than previously available. When chemically activated, demembranated single cells attached to the device contract and slightly deform a strain gauge whose signal is converted to an amplified electrical output. When integrated with a video microscope, the system is capable of optical determination of contractile protein striation periodicity and simultaneous measurement of heart cell forces in the 100-nN to 50-microN range. The average measured maximal force was Fmax = 5.77 +/- 2.38 microN. Normalizing for the cell's cross-sectional area, Fmax/area was 14.7 +/- 7.7 mN/mm2. Oscillatory stiffness data at frequencies up to 1 kHz has also been recorded from relaxed and contracted cells. This novel MEMS force transducer system permits higher fidelity measurements from cardiac myocytes than available from standard macro-sized transducers.
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