An atomic force microscope operating at hypergravity for in situ measurement of cellular mechano-response

J J W A van Loon, M C van Laar, J P Korterik, F B Segerink, R J Wubbels, H A A de Jong, N F van Hulst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


We present a novel atomic force microscope (AFM) system, operational in liquid at variable gravity, dedicated to image cell shape changes of cells in vitro under hypergravity conditions. The hypergravity AFM is realized by mounting a stand-alone AFM into a large-diameter centrifuge. The balance between mechanical forces, both intra- and extracellular, determines both cell shape and integrity. Gravity seems to be an insignificant force at the level of a single cell, in contrast to the effect of gravity on a complete (multicellular) organism, where for instance bones and muscles are highly unloaded under near weightless (microgravity) conditions. However, past space flights and ground based cell biological studies, under both hypogravity and hypergravity conditions have shown changes in cell behaviour (signal transduction), cell architecture (cytoskeleton) and proliferation. Thus the role of direct or indirect gravity effects at the level of cells has remained unclear. Here we aim to address the role of gravity on cell shape. We concentrate on the validation of the novel AFM for use under hypergravity conditions. We find indications that a single cell exposed to 2 to 3 x g reduces some 30-50% in average height, as monitored with AFM. Indeed, in situ measurements of the effects of changing gravitational load on cell shape are well feasible by means of AFM in liquid. The combination provides a promising technique to measure, online, the temporal characteristics of the cellular mechano-response during exposure to inertial forces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)234-43
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Microscopy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2009


  • Animals
  • Buffers
  • Cell Shape
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Centrifugation
  • Culture Media
  • Electronics
  • Hypergravity
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force/instrumentation
  • Osteoblasts/cytology
  • Software
  • Viscoelastic Substances


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