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Tracking intracellular forces and changes to mechanical properties in mouse one-cell embryo development

Duch M*, Torras N*, Asami M*, Suzuki T*, Arjona MI*, Gómez-Martínez R, VerMilyea M, Castilla R, Plaza JA & Perry ACF.


Nature Materials  19, 1114–1123 (2020).

Cells comprise mechanically active matter that governs their functionality, but intracellular mechanics are difficult to study directly and are poorly understood. However, injected nano devices open up opportunities to analyse intracellular mechanobiology. Here, we identify a programme of forces and changes to the cytoplasmic mechanical properties required for mouse embryo development from fertilisation to the first cell division. Injected, fully internalized nano devices responded to sperm decondensation and recondensation, and subsequenct device behaviour suggested a model for pronuclear convergence based on a gradient of effective cytoplasmic stiffness. The nano devices reported reduced cytoplasmic mechanical activity during chromosome alignment and indicated that cytoplasmic stiffening occurred during embryo elongation, followed by rapid cytoplasmic softening during cytokinesis (cell division). Forces greater than those inside muscle cells were detected within embryos. These results suggest that intracellular forces are part of a concerted programme that is necessary for development at the origin of a new embryonic life. 

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Fig1 b, Geometry of fabricated 'H-comb' nanodevices.  c, Schematic representation of nanodevice fabrication technology.  

Fig 6 Mechanics from 1-cell to 2-cell stage.

(b) Images of a representative embryo with corresponding simulated device deflections (insets).  

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