The spreading out of microvessel endothelial cells plays a key role in angiogenesis and the post-injury healing of endothelial cells. In our study, a physical force applied with an atomic force microscopic (AFM) cantilever tip in contact mode partly broke the peripheral adhesion that just-confluent cultured rat cerebral microvessel endothelial cells had formed with basal structures and resulted in the cells actively withdrawing from the stimulated area. Time-series changes in cell extension were imaged using tapping mode AFM, in conjunction with total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy, intensified charge-coupled device and field emission scanning electron microscopy. We also interpreted phase images of living endothelial cells. The results showed that formation of a fibronectin molecule monolayer is key to the spreading out of the cells. Lamellipods as well as filopods would spread out in temporal and spatial distribution following the formation of fibronectin layer. In addition, a lattice-like meshwork of filopods formed in the regions leading lamellipods, which would possibly provide a fulcrum for the filaments of the cytoskeleton within the leading cell body periphery.
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