Kevin M Beussman, Molly Y Mollica, Andrea Leonard, Jeffrey Miles, John Hocter, Zizhen Song, Moritz Stolla, Sangyoon J Han, Ashley Emery, Wendy E Thomas, Nathan J Sniadecki

Acta Biomaterialia 2021 Nov 13; S1742-7061(21)00754-6. DOI:


Measuring the traction forces produced by cells provides insight into their behavior and physiological function. Here, we developed a technique (dubbed ‘black dots’) that microcontact prints a fluorescent micropattern onto a flexible substrate to measure cellular traction forces without constraining cell shape or needing to detach the cells. To demonstrate our technique, we assessed human platelets, which can generate a large range of forces within a population. We find platelets that exert more force have more spread area, are more circular, and have more uniformly distributed F-actin filaments. As a result of the high yield of data obtainable by this technique, we were able to evaluate multivariate mixed effects models with interaction terms and conduct a clustering analysis to identify clusters within our data. These statistical techniques demonstrated a complex relationship between spread area, circularity, F-actin dispersion, and platelet force, including cooperative effects that significantly associate with platelet traction forces.

Statement of significance

Cells produce contractile forces during division, migration, or wound healing. Measuring cellular forces provides insight into their health, behavior, and function. We developed a technique that calculates cellular forces by seeding cells onto a pattern and quantifying how much each cell displaces the pattern. This technique is capable of measuring hundreds of cells without needing to detach them. Using this technique to evaluate human platelets, we find that platelets exerting more force tend to have more spread area, are more circular in shape, and have more uniformly distributed cytoskeletal filaments. Due to our high yield of data, we were able to apply statistical techniques that revealed combinatorial effects between these factors.