Receptor-mediated endocytosis generates nanomechanical force reflective of ligand identity and cellular property

Xiao Zhang, Juan Ren, Jingren Wang, Shixie Li, Qingze Zou, Nan Gao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Whether environmental (thermal, chemical, and nutrient) signals generate quantifiable, nanoscale, mechanophysical changes in the cellular plasma membrane has not been well elucidated. Assessment of such mechanophysical properties of plasma membrane may shed lights on fundamental cellular process. Atomic force microscopic (AFM) measurement of the mechanical properties of live cells was hampered by the difficulty in accounting for the effects of the cantilever motion and the associated hydrodynamic force on the mechanical measurement. These challenges have been addressed in our recently developed control-based AFM nanomechanical measurement protocol, which enables a fast, noninvasive, broadband measurement of the real-time changes in plasma membrane elasticity in live cells. Here we show using this newly developed AFM platform that the plasma membrane of live mammalian cells exhibits a constant and quantifiable nanomechanical property, the membrane elasticity. This mechanical property sensitively changes in response to environmental factors, such as the thermal, chemical, and growth factor stimuli. We demonstrate that different chemical inhibitors of endocytosis elicit distinct changes in plasma membrane elastic modulus reflecting their specific molecular actions on the lipid configuration or the endocytic machinery. Interestingly, two different growth factors, EGF and Wnt3a, elicited distinct elastic force profiles revealed by AFM at the plasma membrane during receptor-mediated endocytosis. By applying this platform to genetically modified cells, we uncovered a previously unknown contribution of Cdc42, a key component of the cellular trafficking network, to EGF-stimulated endocytosis at plasma membrane. Together, this nanomechanical AFM study establishes an important foundation that is expandable and adaptable for investigation of cellular membrane evolution in response to various key extracellular signals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5908-5919
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Cellular Physiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


  • atomic force microscope
  • endocytosis
  • mechanical force
  • plasma membrane


Dive into the research topics of 'Receptor-mediated endocytosis generates nanomechanical force reflective of ligand identity and cellular property'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this