Simultaneous cell traction and growth measurements using light

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Characterizing the effects of force fields generated by cells on proliferation, migration and differentiation processes is challenging due to limited availability of nondestructive imaging modalities. Here, we integrate a new real‐time traction stress imaging modality, Hilbert phase dynamometry (HPD), with spatial light interference microscopy (SLIM) for simultaneous monitoring of cell growth during differentiation processes. HPD uses holographic principles to extract displacement fields from chemically patterned fluorescent grid on deformable substrates. This is converted into forces by solving an elasticity inverse problem. Since HPD uses the epi‐fluorescence channel of an inverted microscope, cellular behavior can be concurrently studied in transmission with SLIM. We studied the differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and found that cells undergoing osteogenesis and adipogenesis exerted larger and more dynamic stresses than their precursors, with MSCs developing the smallest forces and growth rates. Thus, we develop a powerful means to study mechanotransduction during dynamic processes where the matrix provides context to guide cells toward a physiological or pathological outcome.

Chenfei Hu