We are interested in mechanical processes in living cells, which are relevant for the interaction between cells and microparticles (including microplastics) and for cell migration.
Mechanical processes play a particularly important role for immune cells, which routinely exert mechanical forces to fulfil their tasks as part of the immune system. Neutrophils and macrophages adhere to other cells, migrate through tissue and internalize extracellular objects by the process of phagocytosis. Over the last decades, molecular and cellular biology were very successful in identifying a large number of molecules that are involved in cell adhesion, cell migration and phagocytosis. However, the mechanical properties of these important cellular processes are currently just beginning to be unravelled.
We are studying the mechanics of single immune cells on a sub-cellular level by developing and by using optical tweezers, magnetic tweezers and traction force microscopy in combination with high-resolution live cell imaging. Optical and magnetic tweezers allow us to apply and to measure well-defined forces very locally at selected cell locations while simultaneous live cell imaging in combination with digital image processing allows us to monitor the cellular responses to these stimuli. Furthermore, optically trapped microparticles with biochemically active surface coatings enable us to stimulate cells biochemically with a high spatial flexibility. In addition, elastic substrates used in traction force microscopy allow us to study cellular behavior in different mechanical environments and to investigate stress distributions during various cellular processes.
Monitoring the mechanical and biochemical cell responses to such mechanical and biochemical cell stimulations can reveal the interplay between cellular biochemistry and cellular mechanics to reach a quantitative and more fundamental understanding of single cells, the basic unit of life.