Real-time imaging of cellular forces using optical interference

Andrew Thomas Meek, Nils Michael Kronenberg, Andrew Morton, Philipp Liehm, Jan Murawski, Eleni Dalaka, Jonathan Hunter Booth, Simon John Powis, Malte Christian Gather*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


Important dynamic processes in mechanobiology remain elusive due to a lack of tools to image the small cellular forces at play with sufficient speed and throughput. Here, we introduce a fast, interference-based force imaging method that uses the illumination of an elastic deformable microcavity with two rapidly alternating wavelengths to map forces. We show real-time acquisition and processing of data, obtain images of mechanical activity while scanning across a cell culture, and investigate sub-second fluctuations of the piconewton forces exerted by macrophage podosomes. We also demonstrate force imaging of beating neonatal cardiomyocytes at 100 fps which reveals mechanical aspects of spontaneous oscillatory contraction waves in between the main contraction cycles. These examples illustrate the wider potential of our technique for monitoring cellular forces with high throughput and excellent temporal resolution.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3552
Number of pages11
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2021


  • Cell adhesion
  • Cellular imagining
  • IMagining techniques
  • Interference microscopy


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