A cell is a complex material whose mechanical properties are essential for its normal functions. Heating can have a dramatic effect on these mechanical properties, similar to its impact on the dynamics of artificial polymer networks. We investigated such mechanical changes by the use of a microfluidic optical stretcher, which allowed us to probe cell mechanics when the cells were subjected to different heating conditions at different time scales. We find that HL60/S4 myeloid precursor cells become mechanically more compliant and fluid-like when subjected to either a sudden laser-induced temperature increase or prolonged exposure to higher ambient temperature. Above a critical temperature of 52 ± 1°C, we observed active cell contraction, which was strongly correlated with calcium influx through temperature-sensitive transient receptor potential vanilloid 2 (TRPV2) ion channels, followed by a subsequent expansion in cell volume. The change from passive to active cellular response can be effectively described by a mechanical model incorporating both active stress and viscoelastic components. Our work highlights the role of TRPV2 in regulating the thermomechanical response of cells. It also offers insights into how cortical tension and osmotic pressure govern cell mechanics and regulate cell-shape changes in response to heat and mechanical stress.
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