Mechanics of migrating platelets investigated with scanning ion conductance microscopy†
Platelets are small blood cells involved in hemostasis, wound healing, and immune response. After adhesion and spreading, platelets can migrate at sites of injury inducing an early immune response to inflammation or infection. Platelet migration requires fibrinogen-integrin binding and fibrinogen depletion from the substrate inducing a self-generated ligand gradient guiding the direction of migration. This type of cellular motion is referred to as haptotactic migration. The underlying mechanisms of haptotactic platelet migration have just recently been discovered, but the connection to platelet mechanics has remained unknown yet. Using scanning ion conductance microscopy (SICM), we investigated the three-dimensional morphology and mechanics of platelets during haptotactic migration for the first time. Migrating platelets showed a polarized, anisotropic shape oriented in the direction of migration. This polarization goes hand in hand with a characteristic subcellular stiffness distribution showing a region of increased stiffness at the leading edge. Moreover, the mechanical properties of the leading edge revealed a highly dynamic stiffening and softening process with rapid changes of the elastic modulus by a factor of up to 5× per minute. Inhibition of actin polymerization stopped the dynamic stiffening and softening process and halted the migration. By combining SICM with confocal fluorescence microscopy, we found that the increased stiffness and mechanical dynamics at the leading edge coincided with an increased volumetric F-actin density. Our data provide a connection between platelet mechanics and the cytoskeletal contribution to the migration process of platelets.