Time-resolved nanomechanics of a single cell under the depolymerization of the cytoskeleton†
Single cell stiffness measurements consider cells as passive and elastic materials which react instantaneously to an external force. This approximation is at odds with the complex structure of the cell which includes solid and liquid components. Here we develop a force microscopy method to measure the time and frequency dependencies of the elastic modulus, the viscosity coefficient, the loss modulus and the relaxation time of a single live cell. These parameters have different time and frequency dependencies. At low modulation frequencies (0.2–4 Hz), the elastic modulus remains unchanged; the loss modulus increases while the viscosity and the relaxation time decrease. We have followed the evolution of a fibroblast cell subjected to the depolymerization of its F-actin cytoskeleton. The elastic modulus, the loss modulus and the viscous coefficient decrease with the exposure time to the depolymerization drug while the relaxation time increases. The latter effect reflects that the changes in the elastic response happen at a higher rate than those affecting the viscous flow. The observed behavior is compatible with a cell mechanical response described by the poroelastic model.