Deformable microlaser force sensing

Eleni Dalaka, Joseph Samuel Hill, Jonathan H H Booth, A Popczyk, Stefan Robert Pulver, Malte Christian Gather*, Marcel Schubert*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Mechanical forces are key regulators of cellular behavior and function, affecting many fundamental biological processes such as cell migration, embryogenesis, immunological responses, and pathological states. Specialized force sensors and imaging techniques have been developed to quantify these otherwise invisible forces in single cells and in vivo. However, current techniques rely heavily on high-resolution microscopy and do not allow interrogation of optically dense tissue, reducing their application to 2D cell cultures and highly transparent biological tissue. Here, we introduce DEFORM, deformable microlaser force sensing, a spectroscopic technique that detects sub-nanonewton forces with unprecedented spatio-temporal resolution. DEFORM is based on the spectral analysis of laser emission from dye-doped oil microdroplets and uses the force-induced lifting of laser mode degeneracy in these droplets to detect nanometer deformations. Following validation by atomic force microscopy and development of a model that links changes in laser spectrum to applied force, DEFORM is used to measure forces in 3D and at depths of hundreds of microns within tumor spheroids and late-stage Drosophila larva. We furthermore show continuous force sensing with single-cell spatial and millisecond temporal resolution, thus paving the way for non-invasive studies of biomechanical forces in advanced stages of embryogenesis, tissue remodeling, and tumor invasion.
Original languageEnglish
Article number129
Number of pages14
JournalLight: Science & Applications
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2024


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