Correlating Tissue Architecture with Tissue Mechanics


The cover image of Biophysical Journal (Volume 108, Issue 9) shows a cross-section of spinal cord tissue; a microscopy image of fluorescently labelled cells at the top, and an an idealized contour map of the tissue’s local elastic stiffness at the bottom. Two distinct areas are visible in both images: the butterfly-shaped gray matter in the center, and the surrounding white matter. In the stiffness map, not only the difference between white and gray matter is visible, but even subtle differences in elastic stiffness within the gray matter are apparent to the naked eye. Recent work at the interface of life and physical sciences revealed that most types of cells respond not only to chemical but also to mechanical signals in their environment. Mechanical signals, on the other hand, may change during development and disease. In the spinal cord, for example, tissue stiffness changes in neurodegenerative disorders, and probably also after injury. However, we currently know little about how local mechanical tissue properties change in space and time. In our study, we used atomic force microscopy to measure the mechanical properties of the spinal cord in three dimensions at a spatial resolution that is relevant to individual neurons, and we correlated local tissue stiffness with the underlying cellular structures. We then developed a simple model that allows estimating local tissue stiffness based only on easily accessible optical microscopy images. The model we developed might enable laboratories that are not equipped with methods to measure tissue mechanics to approximate local tissue stiffness using standard optical microscopy, and to investigate mechanical signaling in a large variety of physiological and pathological events.  To read more about the influence of mechanics on neuronal development and neurological diseases, please visit: David E. Koser, Emad Moeendarbary, Janina Hanne, Stefanie Kuerten, and Kristian Franze


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