B3: The role of the cytoskeleton for spatial and temporal control of cell mechanics studied using an “average cell”

Lead PI: Timo Betz
Collaborating PIs: Helmut Grubmüller, Andreas Janshoff, Sarah Köster, Peter Lénárt, Melina Schuh
Overarching research question: Does the local cytoskeletal composition predict intracellular mechanics?

While our understanding of the mechanical properties of tissue and the interface of cells to the outside world has advanced tremendously, the mechanical properties inside cells remain largely unstudied. This is partially due to the difficult experimental access, but mostly because intracellular mechanical measurements provide large variations hinting that the properties vary strongly across a single cell. In this project, we exploit our strong experience in optical tweezer based microrheology to determine the intracellular mechanical properties by applying a well-defined force on a probe particle in the cell. To overcome the problem of heterogeneity, we use cells that adhere to a micropattern, which results in a highly reproducible cell shape, generally referred to as the “average cell”. Averaging the semiautomated measurements on hundreds of cells we can determine if the large intracellular variability is an inherent feature, or if it is simply reflecting the complex intracellular structure.

Core field: experimental biophysics
PhD training objectives: active and passive microrheology (experimentally and theoretically); advanced 3D microscopy; immunostaining; generation of adhesion patterns; photomanipulation; CRISPR/CAS9.