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We present the use of atomic force microscopy (AFM) to visualize and quantify the dynamics of epithelial cell junction interactions under physiological and pathophysiological conditions at the nanoscale. Desmosomal junctions are critical cellular adhesion components within epithelial tissues and blistering skin diseases such as Pemphigus are the result in the disruption of these components. However, these structures are complex and mechanically inhomogeneous, making them difficult to study. The mechanisms of autoantibody mediated keratinocyte disassembly remain largely unknown. Here, we have used AFM technology to image and measure the mechanical properties of living skin epithelial cells in culture. We demonstrate that force measurement data can distinguish cells cultured with and without autoantibody treatment. Our demonstration of the use of AFM for in situ imaging and elasticity measurements at the local, or tissue level opens potential new avenues for the investigation of disease mechanisms and monitoring of therapeutic strategies in blistering skin diseases.
Date of Publication: March 2011