Living cells are composed of active materials, in which forces are generated by the energy derived from metabolism. Forces and structures self-organize to shape the cell and drive its dynamic functions. Understanding the out-of-equilibrium mechanics is challenging because constituent materials, the cytoskeleton and the cytosol, are extraordinarily heterogeneous, and their physical properties are strongly affected by the internally generated forces. We have analyzed dynamics inside two types of eukaryotic cells, fibroblasts and epithelial-like HeLa cells, with simultaneous active and passive microrheology using laser interferometry and optical trapping technology. We developed a method to track microscopic probes stably in cells in the presence of vigorous cytoplasmic fluctuations, by using smooth three-dimensional (3D) feedback of a piezo-actuated sample stage. To interpret the data, we present a theory that adapts the fluctuation-dissipation theorem (FDT) to out-of-equilibrium systems that are subjected to positional feedback, which introduces an additional nonequilibrium effect. We discuss the interplay between material properties and nonthermal force fluctuations in the living cells that we quantify through the violations of the FDT. In adherent fibroblasts, we observed a well-known polymer network viscoelastic response where the complex shear modulus scales as G* º(−iw)3/4. In the more 3D confluent epithelial cells, we found glassy mechanics with G* º(−iw)1/2 that we attribute to glassy dynamics in the cytosol. The glassy state in living cells shows characteristics that appear distinct from classical glasses and unique to nonequilibrium materials that are activated by molecular motors.
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