Single cells, despite being the base unit of living organisms, possess a high degree of hierarchical structure and functional compartmentalization. This complexity exists for good reason: cells must respond efficiently and effectively to its surrounding environment by differentiating, moving, interacting, and more in order to survive or inhabit its role in the larger biological system. At the core of these responses is cellular decision-making. Cells process cues internally and externally from the environment and effect intracellular asymmetry in biochemistry and structure in order to carry out the proper biological responses.
Functionalized magnetic particles have shown to be a powerful tool in interacting with biological matter, through either cell or biomolecule sorting, and the activation of biological processes. This dissertation reports on techniques utilizing manipulated magnetic nanoparticles (internalized by cells) to spatially and temporally localize intracellular cues, and examines the resulting asymmetry in biological processes generated by our methods. We first examine patterned micromagnetic elements as a simple strategy of rapidly manipulating magnetic nanoparticles throughout the intracellular space. Silicon or silicon dioxide substrates form the base for electroplated NiFe rods, which are repeated at varying size and pitch. A planarizing resin, initially SU-8, is used as the substrate layer for cellular adhesion. We demonstrate that through the manipulations of a simple external magnet, these micro-fabricated substrates can mediate rapid (under 2 s) and precise (submicron), reversible translation of magnetic nanoparticles through cellular space. Seeding cells on substrates composed of these elements allows simultaneous control of ensembles of nanoparticles over thousands of cells at a time. We believe such substrates could form the basis of magnetically based tools for the activation of biological matter.
We further utilize these strategies to generate user-controllable (time-varying and localizable), massively parallel forces on arrays of cells mediated by coalesced ensembles of magnetic nanoparticles. The above process is simplified and adapted for single cell analysis by precisely aligning fibronectin patterned cells to a single flanking micromagnet. The cells are loaded with magnetic-fluorescent nanoparticles, which are then localized to uniform positions at the internal edge of the cell membrane over huge arrays of cells using large external fields, allowing us to conduct composed studies on cellular response to force. By applying forces approaching the yield tension (5 nN / μm) of single cells, we are able to generate highly coordinated responses in cellular behavior. We discover that increasing tension generates highly directed, PAK-dependent leading-edge type filopodia that increase in intensity with rising tension. In addition, we find that our generated forces can simulate cues created during cellular mitosis, as we are consistently able to generate significant (45 to 90 degree) biasing of the metaphase plate during cell division. Large sample size and rapid sample generation also allow us to analyze cells at an unprecedented rate—a single sample can simultaneously stimulate thousands of cells for high statistical accuracy in measurements.
We believe these approaches have potential not just as a tool to study single-cell response, but as a means of cell control, potentially through modifying cell movement, division, or differentiation. More generally, once approaches to release nanoparticles from endosomes are implemented, the technique provides a platform to dynamically apply a range of localized stimuli arbitrarily within cells. Through the bioconjugation of proteins, nucleic acids, small molecules, or whole organelles a broad range of questions should be accessible concerning molecular localization and its importance in cell function.