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Fast automated processing of AFM PeakForce curves to evaluate spatially resolved Young modulus and stiffness of turgescent cells

Abstract : Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) is a powerful technique for the measurement of mechanical properties of individual cells in two (x  y) or three (x  y  time) dimensions. The instrumental progress makes it currently possible to generate a large amount of data in a relatively short time, which is particularly true for AFM operating in so-called PeakForce tapping mode (Bruker corporation). The latter corresponds to an AFM probe that periodically hits the sample surface while the pico-newton level interaction force is recorded from cantilever deflection. The method provides unprecedented high-resolution (a few tens of nm) imaging of the mechanical features of soft biological samples (e.g. bacteria, yeasts) and of hard abiotic surfaces (e.g. minerals). The rapid conversion of up to several tens of thousands spatially resolved force curves typically collected in AFM PeakForce tapping mode over a given cell surface area into comprehensive nanomechanical information requires the development of robust data analysis methodologies and dedicated numerical tools. In this work, we report an automated algorithm for (i) a rapid and unambiguous detection of the indentation regimes corresponding to non-linear and linear deformations of bacterial surfaces upon compression by the AFM probe, (ii) the subsequent evaluation of the Young modulus and cell surface stiffness, and (iii) the generation of spatial mappings of relevant nanomechanical properties at the single cell level. The procedure involves consistent evaluation of the contact point between the AFM probe and sample biosurface and that of the threshold indentation value marking the transition between non-linear and linear deformation regimes. For comparison purposes, the former regime is here analyzed on the basis of Hertz and Sneddon models corrected or not for effects of finite sample thickness. Analysis of AFM measurements performed on a selected Escherichia coli strain is detailed to demonstrate the feasibility, rapidity and robustness of the here-proposed PeakForce data treatment process. The flexibility of the algorithm allows consideration of force curve parameterizations other than that detailed here, which may be desired for investigation of e.g. eukaryotes nanomechanics. The performance of the adopted Hertz-based and Sneddon-based contact mechanics formalisms in recovering experimental data and in identifying nanomechanical heterogeneities at the bacterium scale is further thoroughly discussed.
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Marc Offroy, Angelina Razafitianamaharavo, Audrey Beaussart, Christophe Pagnout, Jerome F. L. Duval. Fast automated processing of AFM PeakForce curves to evaluate spatially resolved Young modulus and stiffness of turgescent cells. RSC Advances, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2020, 10 (33), pp.19258-19275. ⟨10.1039/D0RA00669F⟩. ⟨hal-02941346⟩



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