Atomic force microscopy is a valuable and useful tool for the imaging and investigation of living cells in their natural environment at high resolution. Procedures applied to living cell preparation before measurements should be adapted individually for different kinds of cells and for the desired measurement technique. Different ways of cell immobilization, such as chemical fixation on the surface, entrapment in the pores of a membrane, or growing them directly on glass cover slips or on plastic substrates, result in the distortion or appearance of artifacts in atomic force microscopy images. Cell fixation allows the multiple use of samples and storage for a prolonged period; it also increases the resolution of imaging. Different atomic force microscopy modes are used for the imaging and analysis of living cells. The contact mode is the best for cell imaging because of high resolution, but it is usually based on the following: (i) image formation at low interaction force, (ii) low scanning speed, and (iii) usage of “soft,” low resolution cantilevers. The tapping mode allows a cell to behave like a very solid material, and destructive shear forces are minimized, but imaging in liquid is difficult. The force spectroscopy mode is used for measuring the mechanical properties of cells; however, obtained results strongly depend on the cell fixation method. In this paper, the application of 3 atomic force microscopy modes including (i) contact, (ii) tapping, and (iii) force spectroscopy for the investigation of cells is described. The possibilities of cell preparation for the measurements, imaging, and determination of mechanical properties of cells are provided. The applicability of atomic force microscopy to diagnostics and other biomedical purposes is discussed.
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