Cells Under Stress: An Inertial-Shear Microfluidic Determination of Cell Behavior

Fern J. Armistead, Julia Gala De Pablo, Hermes Gadêlha, Sally A. Peyman, Stephen D. Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)
209 Downloads (Pure)


The deformability of a cell is the direct result of a complex interplay between the different constituent elements at the subcellular level, coupling a wide range of mechanical responses at different length scales. Changes to the structure of these components can also alter cell phenotype, which points to the critical importance of cell mechanoresponse for diagnostic applications. The response to mechanical stress depends strongly on the forces experienced by the cell. Here, we use cell deformability in both shear-dominant and inertia-dominant microfluidic flow regimes to probe different aspects of the cell structure. In the inertial regime, we follow cellular response from (visco-)elastic through plastic deformation to cell structural failure and show a significant drop in cell viability for shear stresses >11.8 kN/m 2 . Comparatively, a shear-dominant regime requires lower applied stresses to achieve higher cell strains. From this regime, deformation traces as a function of time contain a rich source of information including maximal strain, elastic modulus, and cell relaxation times and thus provide a number of markers for distinguishing cell types and potential disease progression. These results emphasize the benefit of multiple parameter determination for improving detection and will ultimately lead to improved accuracy for diagnosis. We present results for leukemia cells (HL60) as a model circulatory cell as well as for a colorectal cancer cell line, SW480, derived from primary adenocarcinoma (Dukes stage B). SW480 were also treated with the actin-disrupting drug latrunculin A to test the sensitivity of flow regimes to the cytoskeleton. We show that the shear regime is more sensitive to cytoskeletal changes and that large strains in the inertial regime cannot resolve changes to the actin cytoskeleton.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1127-1135
Number of pages9
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2019


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