Non-regularised Inverse Finite Element Analysis for 3D Traction Force Microscopy

Author (s): Muñoz, J.J.
Journal: International Journal of Numerical Analysis and Modeling

Volume: 13, Issue 5
Pages: 763 – 781
Date: 2016

The tractions that cells exert on a gel substrate from the observed displacements is an increasingly attractive and valuable information in biomedical experiments. The computation of these tractions requires in general the solution of an inverse problem. Here, we resort to the discretisation with finite elements of the associated direct variational formulation, and solve the inverse analysis using a least square approach. This strategy requires the minimisation of an error functional, which is usually regularised in order to obtain a stable system of equations with a unique solution. In this paper we show that for many common three-dimensional geometries, meshes and loading conditions, this regularisation is unnecessary. In these cases, the computational cost of the inverse problem becomes equivalent to a direct finite element problem. For the non-regularised functional, we deduce the necessary and sufficient conditions that the dimensions of the interpolated displacement and traction fields must preserve in order to exactly satisfy or yield a unique solution of the discrete equilibrium equations. We apply the theoretical results to some illustrative examples and to real experimental data. Due to the relevance of the results for biologists and modellers, the article concludes with some practical rules that the finite element discretisation must satisfy.