Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Archives of Toxicology


Conventional in vitro toxicity studies have focused on identifying IC50 and the underlying mechanisms, but how toxicants influence biophysical and biomechanical changes in human cells, especially during developmental stages, remain understudied. Here, using an atomic force microscope, we characterized changes in biophysical (cell area, actin organization) and biomechanical (Young's modulus, force of adhesion, tether force, membrane tension, tether radius) aspects of human fetal brain-derived neural progenitor cells (NPCs) induced by four classes of widely used toxic compounds, including rotenone, digoxin, N-arachidonoylethanolamide (AEA), and chlorpyrifos, under exposure up to 36 h. The sub-cellular mechanisms (apoptosis, mitochondria membrane potential, DNA damage, glutathione levels) by which these toxicants induced biochemical changes in NPCs were assessed. Results suggest a significant compromise in cell viability with increasing toxicant concentration (p < 0.01), and biophysical and biomechanical characteristics with increasing exposure time (p < 0.01) as well as toxicant concentration (p < 0.01). Impairment of mitochondrial membrane potential appears to be the most sensitive mechanism of neurotoxicity for rotenone, AEA and chlorpyrifos exposure, but compromise in plasma membrane integrity for digoxin exposure. The surviving NPCs remarkably retained stemness (SOX2 expression) even at high toxicant concentrations. A negative linear correlation (R-2 = 0.92) exists between the elastic modulus of surviving cells and the number of living cells in that environment. We propose that even subtle compromise in cell mechanics could serve as a crucial marker of developmental neurotoxicity (mechanotoxicology) and therefore should be included as part of toxicology assessment repertoire to characterize as well as predict developmental outcomes.


This work was partially supported by funds from National Institutes of Health (NIEHS R01ES025779) to C.K. and M.Y.L., National Science Foundation (CBET, Award # 1337859) to C.K., and Graduate Student Research Award to G.M from Cleveland State University.