Mechanical stimuli are important factors that regulate cell proliferation, survival, metabolism and motility in a variety of cell types. The relationship between mechanical deformation of the extracellular matrix and intracellular deformation of cellular sub-regions and organelles has not been fully elucidated, but may provide new insight into the mechanisms involved in transducing mechanical stimuli to biological responses. In this study, a novel fluorescence microscopy and image analysis method was applied to examine the hypothesis that mechanical strains are fully transferred from a planar, deformable substrate to cytoplasmic and intranuclear regions within attached cells. Intracellular strains were measured in cells derived from the anulus fibrosus of the intervertebral disc when attached to an elastic silicone membrane that was subjected to tensile stretch. Measurements indicated cytoplasmic strains were similar to those of the underlying substrate, with a strain transfer ratio (STR) of 0.79. In contrast, nuclear strains were much smaller than those of the substrate, with an STR of 0.17. These findings are consistent with previous studies indicating nuclear stiffness is significantly greater than cytoplasmic stiffness, as measured using other methods. This study provides a novel method for the study of cellular mechanics, including a new technique for measuring intranuclear deformations, with evidence of differential magnitudes and patterns of strain transferred from the substrate to cell cytoplasm and nucleus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)786-794
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2007


  • Cell
  • Extracellular matrix
  • Intervertebral disc
  • Mechanics
  • Nucleus
  • Strain


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