Mammalian cells must produce heat to maintain body temperature and support other biological activities. Methods to measure a cell's thermogenic ability by inserting a thermometer into the cell or measuring the rate of oxygen consumption in a closed vessel can disturb its natural state. Here, we developed a noninvasive system for measuring a cell's heat production with a bimaterial microcantilever. This method is suitable for investigating the heat-generating properties of cells in their native state, because changes in cell temperature can be measured from the bending of the microcantilever, without damaging the cell and restricting its supply of dissolved oxygen. Thus, we were able to measure increases in cell temperature of <1 K in a small number of murine brown adipocytes (n = 4-7 cells) stimulated with norepinephrine, and observed a slow increase in temperature over several hours. This long-term heat production suggests that, in addition to converting fatty acids into heat energy, brown adipocytes may also adjust protein expression to raise their own temperature, to generate more heat. We expect this bimaterial microcantilever system to prove useful for determining a cell's state by measuring thermal characteristics.
ASJC Scopus subject areas