The nanoscale architecture of force-bearing focal adhesions



van Hoorn H, Harkes R, Spiesz EM, Storm C, van Noort D, Ladoux B, Schmidt T.



Nano Lett.

2014 Aug 13


The combination of micropillar array technology to measure cellular traction forces with super-resolution imaging allowed us to obtain cellular traction force maps and simultaneously zoom in on individual focal adhesions with single-molecule accuracy. We achieved a force detection precision of 500 pN simultaneously with a mean single-molecule localization precision of 30 nm. Key to the achievement was a two-step etching process that provided an integrated spacer next to the micropillar array that permitted stable and reproducible observation of cells on micropillars within the short working distance of a high-magnification, high numerical aperture objective. In turn, we used the technology to characterize the super-resolved structure of focal adhesions during force exertion. Live-cell imaging on MCF-7 cells demonstrated the applicability of the inverted configuration of the micropillar arrays to dynamics measurements. Forces emanated from a molecular base that was localized on top of the micropillars. What appeared as a single adhesion in conventional microscopy were in fact multiple elongated adhesions emanating from only a small fraction of the adhesion on the micropillar surface. Focal adhesions were elongated in the direction of local cellular force exertion with structural features of 100–280 nm in 3T3 Fibroblasts and MCF-7 cells. The combined measure of nanoscale architecture and force exerted shows a high level of stress accumulation at a single site of adhesion.