Mechanisms of cell damage due to mechanical impact: an in vitro investigation

Wonmo Kang, Michael C. Robitaille, Marriner Merrill, Kirubel Teferra, Chunghwan Kim, Marc P. Raphael

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The dynamic response of cells when subjected to mechanical impact has become increasingly relevant for accurate assessment of potential blunt injuries and elucidating underlying injury mechanisms. When exposed to mechanical impact, a biological system such as the human skin, brain, or liver is rapidly accelerated, which could result in blunt injuries. For this reason, an acceleration of greater than > 150 g is the most commonly used criteria for head injury. To understand the main mechanism(s) of blunt injury under such extreme dynamic threats, we have developed an innovative experimental method that applies a well-characterized and -controlled mechanical impact to live cells cultured in a custom-built in vitro setup compatible with live cell microscopy. Our studies using fibroblast cells as a model indicate that input acceleration (ain) alone, even when it is much greater than the typical injury criteria, e.g., ain> 1 , 000 g, does not result in cell damage. On the contrary, we have observed a material-dependent critical pressure value above which a sudden decrease in cell population and cell membrane damage have been observed. We have unambiguously shown that (1) this critical pressure is associated with the onset of cavitation bubbles in a cell culture chamber and (2) the dynamics of cavitation bubbles in the chamber induces localized compressive/tensile pressure cycles, with an amplitude that is considerably greater than the acceleration-induced pressure, to cells. More importantly, the rate of pressure change with time for cavitation-induced pressure is significantly faster (more than ten times) than acceleration-induced pressure. Our in vitro study on the dynamic response of biological systems due to mechanical impact is a crucial step towards understanding potential mechanism(s) of blunt injury and implementing novel therapeutic strategies post-trauma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12009
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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