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How to image cell adhesion on soft polymers?

How can we make high resolution images of the interface between biological cells and soft polymer substrates?

How to image cell adhesion on soft polymers?

Silke Seyock, Vanessa Maybeck, and Andreas Offenhäusser

In: Micron 92 (2017) 39–42


How to image cell adhesion on soft polymersCross section of a cell (blue) growing on a soft polymer substrate. Scale bar 1 µm.

As implant materials become softer to fit with the stiffness of biological tissues, it becomes more and more difficult to analyze the interface between the cell and the material. In Volume 92 of Micron, we present a high resolution method to investigate cell adhesion on soft, non-conducting polymers that are implant candidate materials using electron microscopy. Neuronal cells were grown on two elastomers (polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and Ecoflex®) and prepared for electron microscopy. The samples were treated with osmium tetroxide (OsO4) and uranylacetate (UrAc). The best results can be achieved when the polymers were pre-coated with a thin iridium layer before the cell culture. This was done to emphasize the usage of soft polymers as supports for implant electrodes. We address the issues of distinguishing different organic materials in electron microscopy and the issues of charging or deformation of polymers during FIB milling and electron imaging.