Cell adhesion to the extracellular matrix (ECM) involves integrin receptor–ligand binding and clustering to form focal adhesion (FA) complexes, which mechanically link the cell’s cytoskeleton to the ECM and regulate fundamental cell signaling pathways. Although elucidation of the biochemical events in cell-matrix adhesive interactions is rapidly advancing, recent studies show that the forces underlying cell-matrix adhesive interactions are also critical to cell responses. Therefore, multiple measurement systems have been developed to quantify the spatial and temporal dynamics of cell adhesive forces, and these systems have identified how mechanical events influence cell phenotype and FA structure–function relationships under physiological and pathological settings. This review focuses on the development, methodology, and applications of measurement systems for probing (a) cell adhesion strength and (b) 2D and 3D cell traction forces.

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