Traction force microscopy on soft elastic substrates: A guide to recent computational advances
Authors: Schwarz US, Soiné JR
CellNetworks People: Schwarz Ulrich
Journal: Biochim Biophys Acta. 2015 Nov;1853(11 Pt B):3095-104. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamcr.2015.05.028

The measurement of cellular traction forces on soft elastic substrates has become a standard tool for many labs working on mechanobiology. Here we review the basic principles and different variants of this approach. In general, the extraction of the substrate displacement field from image data and the reconstruction procedure for the forces are closely linked to each other and limited by the presence of experimental noise. We discuss different strategies to reconstruct cellular forces as they follow from the foundations of elasticity theory, including two- versus three-dimensional, inverse versus direct and linear versus non-linear approaches. We also discuss how biophysical models can improve force reconstruction and comment on practical issues like substrate preparation, image processing and the availability of software for traction force microscopy. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Mechanobiology.