We have examined dynamic events that occur on a time scale of minutes in an epithelial monolayer of Madine-Darby Canine Kidney (MDCK) cells and in ras-transformed MDCK cells by atomic force microscopy (AFM). Cells were imaged under physiological conditions, and time-lapse movies representing approximately 60 s real time per frame were assembled. In normal MDCK cells, two types of protrusions in the apical plasma membrane exhibit dynamic behavior. First, smooth bulges formed transiently over the time scale of minutes to tens of minutes. Second, spike-like protrusions appear initially as bulges, extend well above the apical surface and, finally, seem to detach. R5, an oncogenic transformant derived from MDCK cells, grows very flat on glass. During AFM imaging, these cells sometimes round up and detach from the substrate. In light microscopic observations of parallel preparations, cells rarely detach, suggesting that this is an active response of these cells to irritation by the AFM tip. R5 cells often extend processes that are supported by actin stress fibers. During imaging with the AFM, these processes withdraw at a rate of 1–5 microns/min, similar to that observed by light microscopy. During the withdrawal, movement of the stress fibers can be clearly seen. In the flat periphery of these cells, the transport of intracellular particles along cytoskeletal elements was seen. In addition, we have observed two types of wave-like movements through the cell, which appear to be an organized rearrangement of cytoplasm. One type of wave moves radially out from center of the cell while the other moves circularly along the cell periphery.
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