The mechanical properties of single cells play important roles in regulating cell-matrix interactions, potentially influencing the process of mechanotransduction. Recent studies also suggest that cellular mechanical properties may provide novel biological markers, or "biomarkers," of cell phenotype, reflecting specific changes that occur with disease, differentiation, or cellular transformation. Of particular interest in recent years has been the identification of such biomarkers that can be used to determine specific phenotypic characteristics of stem cells that separate them from primary, differentiated cells. The goal of this study was to determine the elastic and viscoelastic properties of three primary cell types of mesenchymal lineage (chondrocytes, osteoblasts, and adipocytes) and to test the hypothesis that primary differentiated cells exhibit distinct mechanical properties compared to adult stem cells (adipose-derived or bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells). In an adherent, spread configuration, chondrocytes, osteoblasts, and adipocytes all exhibited significantly different mechanical properties, with osteoblasts being stiffer than chondrocytes and both being stiffer than adipocytes. Adipose-derived and mesenchymal stem cells exhibited similar properties to each other, but were mechanically distinct from primary cells, particularly when comparing a ratio of elastic to relaxed moduli. These findings will help more accurately model the cellular mechanical environment in mesenchymal tissues, which could assist in describing injury thresholds and disease progression or even determining the influence of mechanical loading for tissue engineering efforts. Furthermore, the identification of mechanical properties distinct to stem cells could result in more successful sorting procedures to enrich multipotent progenitor cell populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)454-464
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2008


  • ADAS cell
  • Adipocyte
  • Atomic force microscopy
  • Cell mechanics
  • Chondrocyte
  • MSC
  • Mechanotransduction
  • Osteoblast


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