Many cellular processes, including cell division, development, and cell migration require spatially and temporally coordinated forces transduced by cell-surface receptors. Nucleic acid-based molecular tension probes allow one to visualize the piconewton (pN) forces applied by these receptors. Building on this technology, we recently developed molecular force microscopy (MFM) which uses fluorescence polarization to map receptor force orientation with diffraction-limited resolution (~250 nm). Here, we show that structured illumination microscopy (SIM), a super-resolution technique, can be used to perform super-resolution MFM. Using SIM-MFM, we generate the highest resolution maps of both the magnitude and orientation of the pN traction forces applied by cells.
Fig: SIM-MFM concept
We apply SIM-MFM to map platelet and fibroblast integrin forces, as well as T cell receptor forces. Using SIM-MFM, we show that platelet traction force alignment occurs on a longer timescale than adhesion. Importantly, SIM-MFM can be implemented on any standard SIM microscope without hardware modifications.
Blanchard, A., Combs, J.D., Brockman, J.M. et al. Turn-key mapping of cell receptor force orientation and magnitude using a commercial structured illumination microscope. Nat Commun 12, 4693 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-24602-x