Characterisation of Local Mechanical Properties in Living Tissues

Change log
Cheng, Qian 

The process of a single cell evolving into a complex organism results from a series of coordinated movements of cells and tissues, especially during early embryo development. Although a wealth of morphological data characterises the shapes and movements of cells in embryos, how these movements are driven, patterned and controlled, and how this patterning is related to the mechanical properties of tissues remains unknown. Four-pole electromagnetic tweezers have been developed to probe the mechanical properties of living embryonic tissues that are undergoing active morphogenetic development. The device is capable of generating magnetic forces in the order of nano-Newtons on a grafted magnetic bead. The local passive mechanical properties of the tissues can be characterised by measuring the three-dimensional bead movement and analysing cell shape changes and cell rearrangement in response to this externally applied force. The magnetic device is used to probe the rheology in early zebrafish embryos between high stage (3.3 hpf) and the onset of gastrulation (5.3 hpf) when rapid cell cycles give way to a hollow sphere of cells. The tissue response to the applied force is modelled as linear visco- elastic. The embryo becomes stiffer and more viscous during this period of development, showing that a loose collection of cells becomes cohesive tissues. A computational model is used to explore how cells respond to local or global mechanical perturbations in two systems. First, the model simulates the movement of the bead within an embryo, and the results illustrate the generation, patterning and relaxation of the local cell stress around the bead. Second, the model reproduces the autonomous changes in mitotic cells within a stretched monolayer, and the results show that propensity of cells to divide along their long axis facilitates stress relaxation and contributes to tissue homoeostasis.

Kabla, Alexandre
embryonic morphogenesis, magnetic tweezers, computational modelling, mechanical properties, zebrafish embryo, local rheology
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
EPSRC Studentship