Nanoscale Physiology and Mechanochemical Sensors

Combining AFM, Light (confocal) Microscopy and Electrophysiology to probe complex living systems

Primary cilia are the non-motile specialised mechano-sensory organelles that protrude from the surface of epithelial cells. In the kidney, they are approximately 200 nm in diameter and extend approximately 10 µm into the lumen of the nephron. Ciliary dysfunction is linked to autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease, the most common of the inherited cystic diseases. The manner in which the cilium bends in response to fluid flow along the nephron and the mechanisms leading to the intracellular calcium release are widely debated. To gain insight into the mechanism of ciliary bending, we are investigating the biophysical properties of the primary cilium using the combination of an AFM and an inverted optical microscope in the near vicinity of the cilium. We have controllably imaged and actuated individual primary cilia with the AFM, probing the rigidity of the primary cilium. The movie file illustrates the experiments.

AFM force volume image of cilium (left) and force distribution histogram for integrin localisation on cilium and cell membrane (right).

Working in this area

The following people are involved in this research:

An image to show the spatial relationship of cell and AFM probe.

Recent highlights

  • Mapping of membrane channel protein on Primary Cilia of MDCK cells.
  • Combination of AFM and light microscopy to probe living cilia.
  • Multimodal microscopy – topography plus functionality probed simultaneously.
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