PloS one

Nanoscale quantification of the biophysical characterization of combretastatin A-4-treated tumor cells using atomic force microscopy.

PMID 28628642


As an inhibitor of microtubule assembly, combretastatin A-4 (CA-4)-induced biological responses in tumor cells have been well known, but the corresponding changes in nano-biophysical properties were not investigated given the lack of an ideal tool. Using AFM technique, we investigated the alteration of nano-biophysical properties when CA-4-treated tumor cells underwent the different biological processes, including cell cycle arrest, apoptosis and autophagy. We found that CA-4-resistant cells were rougher with the presence of characteristic "ridges", indicating that the development of "ridge" structure may be a determinant of the sensitivity of cells to CA-4 compounds. CA-4 induced G2/M arrest and apoptosis in sensitive cells but triggered anti-apoptotic autophagy in resistant cells. CA-4 treatment caused an increase in stiffness in both sensitive and resistant cells. However, these cells exhibited different changes in cell surface roughness. CA-4 decreased Ra and Rq values in sensitive cells but increased these values in resistant cells. The reorganization of F-actin might contribute to the different changes of nano-biophysical properties in CA-4-sensitive and-resistant cells. Our results suggest that cellular nano-biophysical properties, such as "ridges", roughness and stiffness, could be applied as potential biomarkers for evaluating CA-4 compounds, and knowledge regarding how biological alterations cause changes in cellular nano-biophysical properties is helpful to develop a new high-resolution screening tool for anti-tumor agents.