Simultaneous measurements of cytoplasmic viscosity and intracellular vesicle sizes for live human brain cancer cells

Document Type

Letter to the Editor

Publication Date



Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics


Intracellular vesicles, comprised of protein clusters, were individually tracked inside human brain cancer cells and characterized to simultaneously determine the average vesicle size and effective cytoplasmic viscosity. The cells were transfected with a TGF-β superfamily gene, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug-Activated Gene-1 (NAG-1) tagged with green fluorescent proteins (GFPs). Using total internal reflection fluorescent microscopy (TIRFM) the individual movements of the vesicles were categorized into either Brownian, caged, or directional type motion. In the near-field region confined by the evanescent wave field of TIRFM, the hindrance of these vesicles was created by interactions with the glass coverslip and/or sub-cellular structures. Measured particle motions were compared with theoretical predictions of hindered motion to estimate the unknown size and viscosity parameters using a nonlinear regression technique. For the tested human brain cancer cells, the average vesicle size and effective intracellular fluid viscosity were calculated to be 496nm and 0.068Pas, respectively. This finding suggests that most of the hindrance experienced by vesicles can be due to non-hydrodynamic interactions with microtubules and other intracellular structures. It should be also noted that this method provides a way to examine changes in vesicle size due to outside stimulus such as drug interaction, cytotoxicity, etc., unlike standard measurement techniques which require fixing the cells themselves.

Publication Title

Biotechnology and Bioengineering