A methodology for measuring mechanical stresses within tissues from any organism is reported online this week in Nature Methods. This approach will enable the study of how mechanical forces contribute to the shape, structure and function of both developing and mature tissues.
Biological tissues are dynamic structures. During development in particular, cell movements and mechanical forces play an important role in the shape and eventual function of developing tissues and organs.
Otger Campas, Don Ingber and colleagues used stable oil microdroplets, which themselves have defined mechanical properties, to measure force within tissues. They coat these droplets with a ligand for a cell of interest and inject the droplets into living tissue maintained in culture. As the surrounding cells push and pull on the droplet, they deform it. Accurate measurements of this deformation, combined with modeling, permit the authors to reconstruct the mechanical forces within the tissue at that location. Campas, Ingber, and colleagues use this approach to monitor forces within three-dimensional cellular aggregates as well as within jaw tissue removed from a mouse embryo and maintained in culture.