Measurements of the mechanical response of biological cells are critical for understanding injury and disease, for developing diagnostic tools, and for computational models in mechanobiology. Although it is well known that cells are sensitive to the topography of their microenvironment, the current paradigm in mechanical testing of adherent cells is mostly limited to specimens grown on flat two-dimensional substrates. In this study, we introduce a technique in which cellular indentation via optical trapping is performed on cells at a high spatial resolution to obtain their regional mechanical properties while they exist in a more favorable three-dimensional microenvironment. We combine our approach with nonlinear contact mechanics theory to consider the effects of a large deformation. This allows us to probe length scales that are relevant for obtaining overall cell stiffness values. The experimental results herein provide the hyperelastic material properties at both high (∼100 s−1) and low (∼1–10 s−1) strain rates of murine central nervous system glial cells. The limitations due to possible misalignment of the indenter in the three-dimensional space are examined using a computational model.
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