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Nanostructured Materials Direct Cell Behavior (invited presentation)

A.J. Engler
University of California, San Diego, US


Intrinsic properties of the extracellular matrix (ECM), the protein scaffold that surrounds cells, are known to vary both in bulk and at the nano-scale. While bulk material properties are known to influence cell behavior, e.g. ECM stiffness directing stem cell differentiation, it is unclear to what extent macroscopic properties are reflected by nanoscopic material properties and to what degree they influence cell behavior. Using an atomic force microscopy imaging method called force spectroscopy mapping (FSM), we have shown that many hydrogels have uniform elasticity at the nanoscale, e.g. poly(acryl amide), but others do not, e.g. poly(vinyl pyrrolidone). Moreover, we have also used FSM to detect adhesion changes on micropatterned materials and diblock co-polymer foams, which can be engineered to reflect the nanoscopic variation in adhesivity that ECM, e.g. fibronectin fibrils with specific cell binding sites. Cells bound to these materials, i.e. those with nanoscopic mechanical and adhesive properties, show differences in cell shape, spreading, and proliferation as well as higher order properties such as differentiation. Together these data imply that materials with nanoscopic properties mimic natural ECM variation and drive cell behavior.
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