Among the methods for the determination of mechanical properties of living cells acoustic microscopy provides some extraordinary advantages. It is relatively fast, of excellent spatial resolution and of minimal invasiveness. Sound velocity is a measure of the stiffness or Young's modulus of the cell. Attenuation of cytoplasm is a measure of supramolecular interactions. These parameters are of crucial interest for studies of cell motility, volume regulations and to establish the functional role of the various elements of the cytoskeleton. Using a phase and amplitude sensitive modulation of a scanning acoustic microscope (Hillman et al., 1994, J. Alloys Compounds. 211/212:625-627) longitudinal wave speed, attenuation and thickness profile of a biological cell are obtained from the voltage versus frequency or V(f) curves. A series of pictures, for instance in the frequency range 980-1100 MHz with an increment of 20 MHz, allows the experimental generation of V(f) curves for each pixel while keeping the lens-specimen distance unchanged. Both amplitude and phase values of the V(f) curves are used for obtaining the cell properties and the cell thickness profile. The theoretical analysis shows that the thin liquid layer, between the cell and the substrate, has a strong influence on the reflection coefficient and should not be ignored during the analysis. Cell properties, cell profile and the thickness of the thin liquid layer are obtained from the V(f) curves by the simplex inversion algorithm. The main advantages of this new method are that imaging can be done near the focal plane, therefore an optimal signal to noise ratio is achieved, no interference with Rayleigh waves occurs, and the method requires only an approximate estimate of the material properties of the solid substratum where the cells are growing on.
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