Eukaryotic membrane tethers revisited using magnetic tweezers
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Membrane nanotubes, under physiological conditions, typically form en masse. We employed magnetic tweezers (MTW) to extract tethers from human brain tumor cells and compared their biophysical properties with tethers extracted after disruption of the cytoskeleton and from a strongly differing cell type, Chinese hamster ovary cells. In this method, the constant force produced with the MTW is transduced to cells through super-paramagnetic beads attached to the cell membrane. Multiple sudden jumps in bead velocity were manifest in the recorded bead displacement-time profiles. These discrete events were interpreted as successive ruptures of individual tethers. Observation with scanning electron microscopy supported the simultaneous existence of multiple tethers. The physical characteristics, in particular, the number and viscoelastic properties of the extracted tethers were determined from the analytic fit to bead trajectories, provided by a standard model of viscoelasticity. Comparison of tethers formed with MTW and atomic force microscopy (AFM), a technique where the cantilever- force transducer is moved at constant velocity, revealed significant differences in the two methods of tether formation. Our findings imply that extreme care must be used to interpret the outcome of tether pulling experiments performed with single molecular techniques (MTW, AFM, optical tweezers, etc). First, the different methods may be testing distinct membrane structures with distinct properties. Second, as soon as a true cell membrane (as opposed to that of a vesicle) can attach to a substrate, upon pulling on it, multiple nonspecific membrane tethers may be generated. Therefore, under physiological conditions, distinguishing between tethers formed through specific and nonspecific interactions is highly nontrivial if at all possible.
Basarab G Hosu et al 2007 Phys. Biol. 4 67