Robotically controlled microprey to resolve initial attack modes preceding phagocytosis

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Science Robotics  04 Jan 2017:
Vol. 2, Issue 2, eaah6094
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aah6094

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Phagocytes, predatory cells of the immune system, continuously probe their cellular microenvironment on the hunt for invaders. This requires prey recognition followed by the formation of physical contacts sufficiently stable for pickup. Although immune cells must apply physical forces to pick up their microbial prey, little is known about their hunting behavior preceding phagocytosis because of a lack of appropriate technologies. To study phagocyte hunting behavior in which the adhesive bonds by which the prey holds on to surfaces must be broken, we exploited the use of microrobotic probes to mimic bacteria. We simulate different hunting scenarios by confronting single macrophages with prey-mimicking micromagnets using a 5–degree of freedom magnetic tweezers system (5D-MTS). The energy landscape that guided the translational and rotational movement of these microparticles was dynamically adjusted to explore how translational and rotational resistive forces regulate the modes of macrophage attacks. For translational resistive prey, distinct push-pull attacks were observed. For rod-shaped, nonresistive prey, which mimic free-floating pathogens, cells co-aligned their prey with their long axis to facilitate pickup. Increasing the rotational trap stiffness to mimic resistive or surface-bound prey disrupts this realignment process. At stiffness levels on the order of 105 piconewton nanometer radian−1, macrophages failed to realign their prey, inhibiting uptake. Our 5D-MTS was used as a proof-of-concept study to probe the translational and rotational attack modes of phagocytes with high spatial and temporal resolution, although the system can also be used for a variety of other mechanobiology studies at length scales ranging from single cells to organ-on-a-chip devices.

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