• atomic force microscopy;
  • AFM;
  • endothelial cells;
  • cell volume;
  • aldosterone;
  • Na+/H+exchange

Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is a useful technique for imaging the surface of living cells in three dimensions. The authors applied AFM to obtain morphological information of individual cultured endothelial cells of bovine aorta under stationary and strain conditions and to simultaneously measure changes in cell volume in response to aldosterone. This mineralocorticoid hormone is known to have acute, non-genomic effects on intracellular pH, intracellular electrolytes and inositol-1,4,5-triphosphate production. In this study whether endothelial cells under tension change their volume in response to aldosterone was tested. Such changes were already shown in human leukocytes measured by Coulter counter. In contrast to leukocytes that are more or less spherical and live in suspension, endothelial cells exhibit a complex morphology and adhere to a substrate. Thus, measurements of discrete cell volume changes in endothelial cells under physiological condition is only feasible with more sophisticated techniques. By using AFM we could precisely measure the absolute cell volume of individual living endothelial cells. Before the addition of aldosterone the cell volume of mechanically stressed endothelial cells mimicking arterial blood pressure was 1827±172fl. Cell volume was found to increase by 28% 5min after hormone exposure. Twenty-five minutes later cell volume was back to normal despite the continuous presence of aldosterone in the medium. Amiloride, a blocker of the plasma membrane Na+/H+exchanger prevented the initial aldosterone-induced volume increase. Taken together, AFM disclosed a transient swelling of endothelial cells induced by the activation of an aldosterone sensitive plasma membrane Na+/H+exchanger.