3D Viscoelastic traction force microscopy†
Native cell–material interactions occur on materials differing in their structural composition, chemistry, and physical compliance. While the last two decades have shown the importance of traction forces during cell–material interactions, they have been almost exclusively presented on purely elastic in vitro materials. Yet, most bodily tissue materials exhibit some level of viscoelasticity, which could play an important role in how cells sense and transduce tractions. To expand the realm of cell traction measurements and to encompass all materials from elastic to viscoelastic, this paper presents a general, and comprehensive approach for quantifying 3D cell tractions in viscoelastic materials. This methodology includes the experimental characterization of the time-dependent material properties for any viscoelastic material with the subsequent mathematical implementation of the determined material model into a 3D traction force microscopy (3D TFM) framework. Utilizing this new 3D viscoelastic TFM (3D VTFM) approach, we quantify the influence of viscosity on the overall material traction calculations and quantify the error associated with omitting time-dependent material effects, as is the case for all other TFM formulations. We anticipate that the 3D VTFM technique will open up new avenues of cell–material investigations on even more physiologically relevant time-dependent materials including collagen and fibrin gels.