Single-cell adhesion force plays a crucial role in biological sciences, however its in-depth investigation is hindered by the extremely low throughput and the lack of temporal resolution of present techniques. While atomic force microcopy (AFM) based methods are capable of directly measuring the detachment force values between individual cells and a substrate, their throughput is limited to few cells per day, and cannot provide the kinetic evaluation of the adhesion force over the timescale of several hours. In this study a high spatial and temporal resolution resonant waveguide grating based label-free optical biosensor was combined with robotic fluidic force microscopy to monitor the adhesion of living cancer cells. In contrast to traditional fluidic force microscopy methods with a manipulation range in the order of 300–400 micrometers, the robotic device employed here can address single cells over mm-cm scale areas. This feature significantly increased measurement throughput, and opened the way to combine the technology with the employed microplate-based, large area biosensor. After calibrating the biosensor signals with the direct force measuring technology on 30 individual cells, the kinetic evaluation of the adhesion force and energy of large cell populations was performed for the first time. We concluded that the distribution of the single-cell adhesion force and energy can be fitted by log-normal functions as cells are spreading on the surface and revealed the dynamic changes in these distributions. The present methodology opens the way for the quantitative assessment of the kinetics of single-cell adhesion force and energy with an unprecedented throughput and time resolution, in a completely non-invasive manner.
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