A research team from the CSIC (Spanish National Research Council) has achieved a significant breakthrough in understanding the mechanical properties of human cells: it has successfully demonstrated that living cells, specifically human breast epithelial cells, exhibit mechanical resonances, a phenomenon previously considered unlikely due to the extraordinary viscosity and complexity of cells in physiological environments. The results of this pioneering study, conducted by researchers from the Bionanomechanics group at the Institute of Micro and Nanotechnology, are published in the journal PRX Life.

The study builds on the work of Eugene Ackerman in the 1950s, who first proposed the idea of mechanical resonances in living cells. However, his findings were largely overlooked due to a lack of solid experimental evidence. This new research validates Ackerman’s predictions, providing substantial experimental evidence of the existence of these resonances.

Using optical techniques, the researchers analyzed the fluctuations commonly referred to as noise from a micro-trampoline made with silicon technology, to which a human cell had been attached. Analysis of the micro-trampoline noise, equivalent to erratic displacements on the order of 10-12 m (one-tenth the size of an atom), revealed that the cell was capable of vibrating specifically at frequencies ranging from 20 to 200 kHz, explains researcher Javier Tamayo, who led the study. This phenomenon has been observed in human breast epithelial cells and cells from breast cancer, he adds.

This unexpected finding has far-reaching implications for our understanding of the role these vibrations play in human cells and how they are altered by cancer, notes Tamayo. The method has the potential for cell identification, but improvements in method precision are currently being addressed, he adds.

These advances could lead to new approaches for the vibrational spectrometry of living cells and potentially revive the idea of destroying cancer cells using focused ultrasound waves, predicts the researcher.

Emerging research is beginning to reveal the effect of mechanical vibrations in the low-frequency range, 1-100 Hz, on cellular behavior. The precise mechanisms through which these vibrations exert their effects are still being explored, but findings to date suggest a complex interaction between mechanical forces and cellular biology.

Our findings open new avenues for future research on the impact of mechanical resonances on cell survival, proliferation, and migration, which are critical aspects of cellular biology and cancer, concludes Tamayo.


CSIC | Verónica Puerto-Belda, Jose J. Ruz, Carmen Millá, et al., Measuring Vibrational Modes in Living Human Cells. PRX Life

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