• stiffness tomography;
  • AFM;
  • macrophage;
  • mechanical properties;
  • cytoskeleton

Stiffness tomography is a new atomic force microscopy imaging technique that allows highlighting structures located underneath the surface of the sample. In this imaging mode, such structures are identified by investigating their mechanical properties. We present here, for the first time, a description of the use of this technique to acquire detailed stiffness maps of fixed and living macrophages. Indeed, the mechanical properties of several macrophages were studied through stiffness tomography imaging, allowing some insight of the structures lying below the cell's surface. Through these investigations, we were able to evidence the presence and properties of stiff column-like features located underneath the cell membrane. To our knowledge, this is the first evidence of the presence, underneath the cell membrane, of such stiff features, which are in dimension and form compatible with phagosomes. Moreover, by exposing the cells to cytochalasin, we were able to study the induced modifications, obtaining an indication of the location and mechanical properties of the actin cytoskeleton. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.