Methods for probing mechanical responses of mammalian cells to electrical excitations can improve our understanding of cellular physiology and function. The electrical response of neuronal cells to applied voltages has been studied in detail, but less is known about their mechanical response to electrical excitations. Studies using atomic force microscopes (AFMs) have shown that mammalian cells exhibit voltage-induced mechanical deflections at nanometre scales, but AFM measurements can be invasive and difficult to multiplex. Here we show that mechanical deformations of neuronal cells in response to electrical excitations can be measured using piezoelectric PbZr x Ti 1- x O 3 (PZT) nanoribbons, and we find that cells deflect by 1/nm when 120/mV is applied to the cell membrane. The measured cellular forces agree with a theoretical model in which depolarization caused by an applied voltage induces a change in membrane tension, which results in the cell altering its radius so that the pressure remains constant across the membrane. We also transfer arrays of PZT nanoribbons onto a silicone elastomer and measure mechanical deformations on a cow lung that mimics respiration. The PZT nanoribbons offer a minimally invasive and scalable platform for electromechanical biosensing.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors thank N. Verma and N. Yao for useful discussions and advice, and G. Poirier, S. Xu, T. Liu, N.T. Jafferis and X. Xu for their help with technical issues. The authors thank Lynn W. Enquist for contributing reagents. The authors acknowledge use of the PRISM Imaging and Analysis Center, which is supported by the NSF MRSEC Program via the Princeton Center for Complex Materials (no. DMR-0819860). T.K. was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Student Research Fellowship (DGE-0646086). P.K.P acknowledges support from the Army Research Office (no. W911NF-11-1-0494), and M.C.M. acknowledges support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (no. N66001-10-1-2012) and the Army Research Office (no. W911NF-11-1-0397).