Single cell mechanics of keratinocyte cells

Valentin Lulevich, Hsin ya Yang, Roslyn Rivkah Isseroff, Gang-yu Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Keratinocytes represent the major cell type of the uppermost layer of human skin, the epidermis. Using AFM-based single cell compression, the ability of individual keratinocytes to resist external pressure and global rupturing forces is investigated and compared with various cell types. Keratinocytes are found to be 6-70 times stiffer than other cell types, such as white blood, breast epithelial, fibroblast, or neuronal cells, and in contrast to other cell types they retain high mechanic strength even after the cell's death. The absence of membrane rupturing peaks in the force-deformation profiles of keratinocytes and their high stiffness during a second load cycle suggests that their unique mechanical resistance is dictated by the cytoskeleton. A simple analytical model enables the quantification of Young's modulus of keratinocyte cytoskeleton, as high as 120-340. kPa. Selective disruption of the two major cytoskeletal networks, actin filaments and microtubules, does not significantly affect keratinocyte mechanics. F-actin is found to impact cell deformation under pressure. During keratinocyte compression, the plasma membrane stretches to form peripheral blebs. Instead of blebbing, cells with depolymerized F-actin respond to pressure by detaching the plasma membrane from the cytoskeleton underneath. On the other hand, the compression force of keratinocytes expressing a mutated keratin (cell line, KEB-7) is 1.6-2.2 times less than that for the control cell line that has normal keratin networks. Therefore, we infer that the keratin intermediate filament network is responsible for the extremely high keratinocyte stiffness and resilience. This could manifest into the rugged protective nature of the human epidermis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1435-1442
Number of pages8
Issue number12
StatePublished - Nov 2010


  • Blebbing
  • Cell mechanics
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Keratinocyte
  • Single cell compression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Instrumentation
  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials


Dive into the research topics of 'Single cell mechanics of keratinocyte cells'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this