Rewiring mesenchymal stem cell lineage specification by switching the biophysical microenvironment.
ABSTRACT: The propensity of stem cells to specify and commit to a particular lineage program is guided by dynamic biophysical and biochemical signals that are temporally regulated. However, most in vitro studies rely on "snapshots" of cell state under static conditions. Here we asked whether changing the biophysical aspects of the substrate could modulate the degree of mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) lineage specification. We chose to explore two diverse differentiation outcomes: MSC osteogenesis and trans-differentiation to neuron-like cells. MSCs were cultured on soft (~0.5?kPa) or stiff (~40?kPa) hydrogels followed by transfer to gels of the opposite stiffness. MSCs on soft gels express elevated neurogenesis markers while MSCs on stiff substrates express elevated osteogenesis markers. Transfer of MSCs from soft to stiff or stiff to soft substrates led to a switch in lineage specification. However, MSCs transferred from stiff to soft substrates maintained elevated osteogenesis markers, suggesting a degree of irreversible activation. Transferring MSCs to micropatterned substrates reveal geometric cues that further modulate lineage reversal. Taken together, this study demonstrates that MSCs remain susceptible to the biophysical properties of the extracellular matrix--even after several weeks of culture--and can redirect lineage specification in response to changes in the microenvironment.
Project description:We undertook mRNA microarray and gene ontology analyses to screen out substrate stiffness-dependent genes. Total mRNA were extracted from E17 cortical neurons grown on soft or stiff substrates at 5 or 16 hr time points. We identified 114 differentially-expressed mRNA transcripts in cells grown on 0.1 kPa and 20 kPa gels at the 5 hr time-point. Among them, 66 were upregulated in 0.1 kPa gel cultures and the remainder were downregulated (compared to cells grown on stiffer substrates). The expressions of three endocytic genes (Cltc, Dab2, and Myo6) and four adhesion genes(Vcl, Robo2, Nrcam, and Cad11) were confirmed by QGP and smRNA FISH. Overall design: We collected total RNA extracted from E17 cortical neurons on different substrates with various stiffness ( 0.1,1,20 kPa gels and glass). Three independent experiments were performed at two time points (5 hr and 16 hr).
Project description:Cells sense the rigidity of their substrate; however, little is known about the physical variables that determine their response to this rigidity. Here, we report traction stress measurements carried out using fibroblasts on polyacrylamide gels with Young's moduli ranging from 6 to 110 kPa. We prepared the substrates by employing a modified method that involves N-acryloyl-6-aminocaproic acid (ACA). ACA allows for covalent binding between proteins and elastomers and thus introduces a more stable immobilization of collagen onto the substrate when compared to the conventional method of using sulfo-succinimidyl-6-(4-azido-2-nitrophenyl-amino) hexanoate (sulfo-SANPAH). Cells remove extracellular matrix proteins off the surface of gels coated using sulfo-SANPAH, which corresponds to lower values of traction stress and substrate deformation compared to gels coated using ACA. On soft ACA gels (Young's modulus <20 kPa), cell-exerted substrate deformation remains constant, independent of the substrate Young's modulus. In contrast, on stiff substrates (Young's modulus >20 kPa), traction stress plateaus at a limiting value and the substrate deformation decreases with increasing substrate rigidity. Sustained substrate strain on soft substrates and sustained traction stress on stiff substrates suggest these may be factors governing cellular responses to substrate rigidity.
Project description:The extracellular matrix plays a crucial role in controlling human mesenchymal stem cell (hMSC) biology including differentiation, and ?5?1 integrin signaling plays an important role during osteogenic differentiation of hMSCs. Here, peptide-functionalized hydrogels were used to examine the role of ?5?1 integrin signaling in inducing osteogenic differentiation in hMSCs. Further, the role of substrate elasticity was also studied. A thiolene chemistry was used to functionalize poly(ethylene glycol) hydrogels with a pendant peptide moieity, c(RRETAWA), as previous studies have shown that RRETAWA containing peptides bind to the ?5?1 integrin with very high specificity. Notably, hMSC attachment to c(RRETAWA)-functionalized hydrogels was found to occur primarily through ?5 integrins, as the number of attached cells was significantly reduced to ~20% upon blocking the ?5 integrin during culture. To investigate the interplay between stiffness and c(RRETAWA) concentration, hydrogels were formulated with Young's moduli of ~2 kPa (soft) and ~25 kPa (stiff) and c(RRETAWA) concentrations of 0.1 mM and 1 mM. Stiff substrates led to ~3.5 fold higher hMSC attachment and ~3 fold higher cell area in comparison to soft substrates. hMSCs formed robust and larger focal adhesions on stiff substrates at 1 mM c(RRETAWA) compared to soft substrates. Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity in hMSCs cultured on stiff gels at 0.1 mM and 1 mM c(RRETAWA) was increased 2.5 and 3.5 fold, respectively after 14 days in growth media. hMSCs did not show an increase in ALP activity when cultured on soft gels. Further, gene expression of osteogenic related genes, core binding factor-1, osteopontin and Collagen-1a at day 14 in hMSCs cultured on stiff gels at 1 mM c(RRETAWA) were increased 10, 7 and 4 fold, respectively, while on soft gels, gene expression was at basal levels. Collectively, these results demonstrate that the combination of high substrate stiffness and ?5?1 integrin signaling stimulated by c(RRETAWA) is sufficient to induce osteogenic differentiation of hMSCs without requiring the addition of soluble factors.
Project description:Bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a valuable cell source for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Transforming growth factor ? (TGF-?) can promote MSC differentiation into either smooth muscle cells (SMCs) or chondrogenic cells. Here we showed that the stiffness of cell adhesion substrates modulated these differential effects. MSCs on soft substrates had less spreading, fewer stress fibers and lower proliferation rate than MSCs on stiff substrates. MSCs on stiff substrates had higher expression of SMC markers ?-actin and calponin-1; in contrast, MSCs on soft substrates had a higher expression of chondrogenic marker collagen-II and adipogenic marker lipoprotein lipase (LPL). TGF-? increased SMC marker expression on stiff substrates. However, TGF-? increased chondrogenic marker expression and suppressed adipogenic marker expression on soft substrates, while adipogenic medium and soft substrates induced adipogenic differentiation effectively. Rho GTPase was involved in the expression of all aforementioned lineage markers, but did not account for the differential effects of substrate stiffness. In addition, soft substrates did not significantly affect Rho activity, but inhibited Rho-induced stress fiber formation and ?-actin assembly. Further analysis showed that MSCs on soft substrates had weaker cell adhesion, and that the suppression of cell adhesion strength mimicked the effects of soft substrates on the lineage marker expression. These results provide insights of how substrate stiffness differentially regulates stem cell differentiation, and have significant implications for the design of biomaterials with appropriate mechanical property for tissue regeneration.
Project description:Fibrosis is associated with aging and many cardiac pathologies. It is characterized both by myofibroblast differentiation and by excessive accumulation of extracellular matrix proteins. Fibrosis-related tissue remodeling results in significant changes in tissue structure and function, including passive mechanical properties. This research area has gained significant momentum with the recent development of new tools and approaches to better characterize and understand the ability of cells to sense and respond to their biophysical environment. We use a novel hydrogel, termed CyPhyGel, to provide an advanced in vitro model of remodeling-related changes in tissue stiffness. Based on light-controlled dimerization of a Cyanobacterial Phytochrome, it enables contactless and reversible tuning of hydrogel mechanical properties with high spatial and temporal resolution. Human primary atrial fibroblasts were cultured on CyPhyGels. After 4 days of culturing on stiff (~4.6 kPa) or soft (~2.7 kPa) CyPhyGels, we analyzed fibroblast cell area and stiffness. Cells grown on the softer substrate were smaller and softer, compared to cells grown on the stiffer substrate. This difference was absent when both soft and stiff growth substrates were combined in a single CyPhyGel, with the resulting cell areas being similar to those on homogeneously stiff gels and cell stiffnesses being similar to those on homogeneously soft substrates. Using CyPhyGels to mimic tissue stiffness heterogeneities in vitro, our results confirm the ability of cardiac fibroblasts to adapt to their mechanical environment, and suggest the presence of a paracrine mechanism that tunes fibroblast structural and functional properties associated with mechanically induced phenotype conversion toward myofibroblasts. In the context of regionally increased tissue stiffness, such as upon scarring or in diffuse fibrosis, such a mechanism could help to prevent abrupt changes in cell properties at the border zone between normal and diseased tissue. The light-tunable mechanical properties of CyPhyGels and their suitability for studying human primary cardiac cells make them an attractive model system for cardiac mechanobiology research. Further investigations will explore the interactions between biophysical and soluble factors in the response of cardiac fibroblasts to spatially and temporally heterogeneous mechanical cues.
Project description:Understanding how cells respond to the mechanics of their environment, and what affect senescence may have on this response, is important to gain a better understanding of mechanobiology, both in health and ageing-associated pathology. This experiment assessed the mRNA levels in early and late passage donor-matched human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) cultured for four days on soft (2 kPa) or stiff (25 kPa) collagen-I coated polyacrylamide (PA) gels. A minimum of three donors were analysed under each condition. Protein coding RNAs were sequenced with Illumina HiSeq technology. In a parallel experiment, protein was quantified by mass spectrometry proteomics.
Project description:The mechanical properties of the microenvironment and direct contact-mediated cell-cell interactions are two variables known to be important in the determination of stem cell differentiation fate, but little is known about the interplay of these cues. Here, we use a micropatterning approach on polyacrylamide gels of tunable stiffnesses to study how homotypic cell-cell contacts and mechanical stiffness affect different stages of osteogenesis of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Nuclear localization of transcription factors associated with osteogenesis depended on substrate stiffness and was independent of the degree of cell-cell contact. However, expression of alkaline phosphatase, an early protein marker for osteogenesis, increased only in cells with both direct contact with neighboring cells and adhesion to stiffer substrates. Finally, mature osteogenesis, as assessed by calcium deposition, was low in micropatterned cells, even on stiff substrates and in multicellular clusters. These results indicate that substrate stiffness and the presence of neighboring cells regulate osteogenesis in MSCs.
Project description:Abnormally stiff substrates have been shown to trigger cancer progression. However, the detailed molecular mechanisms underlying this trigger are not clear. In this study, we cultured T84 human colorectal cancer cells on plastic dishes to create a stiff substrate or on collagen-I gel to create a soft substrate. The stiff substrate enhanced the expression of matrix metalloproteinase-7 (MMP-7), an indicator of poor prognosis. In addition, we used polyacrylamide gels (2, 67 and 126 kPa) so that the MMP-7 expression on the 126-kPa gel was higher compared with that on the 2-kPa gel. Next, we investigated whether yes-associated protein (YAP) affected the MMP-7 expression. YAP knockdown decreased MMP-7 expression. Treatment with inhibitors of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and myosin regulatory light chain (MRLC) and integrin-α2 or integrin-β1 knockdown downregulated MMP-7 expression. Finally, we demonstrated that YAP, EGFR, integrin-α2β1 and MRLC produced a positive feedback loop that enhanced MMP-7 expression. These findings suggest that stiff substrates enhanced colorectal cancer cell viability by upregulating MMP-7 expression through a positive feedback loop.
Project description:Previous studies have shown that dendrites are influenced by substrate stiffness when neurons are plated in either pure or mixed cultures. However, because substrate rigidity can also affect other aspects of culture development known to impact dendrite branching, such as overall cell number, it is unclear whether substrate stiffness exerts a direct or indirect effect on dendrite morphology. In this study, we determine whether substrate stiffness plays a critical role in regulating dendrite branching independent of cell number. We plated primary mixed hippocampal cultures on soft and stiff gels, with Young's moduli of 1 kPa and 7 kPa, respectively. We found that neurons plated on stiffer substrates showed increased branching relative to neurons grown on softer substrates at the same cell number. On the stiff gels, we also observed a cell number-dependent effect, in which increasing initial plating density decreased dendrite branching. This change correlates with an increase in extracellular glutamate. We concluded that both cell number and substrate stiffness play roles in determining dendrite branching, and that the two effects are independent of one another.
Project description:Restoration of epidermal organization and function in response to a variety of pathophysiological insults is critically dependent on coordinated keratinocyte migration, proliferation, and stratification during the process of wound healing. These processes are mediated by the reconfiguration of both cell-cell (desmosomes, adherens junctions) and cell-matrix (focal adhesions, hemidesmosomes) junctions and the cytoskeletal filament networks that they serve to interconnect. In this study, we investigated the role of substrate elasticity (stiffness) on keratinocyte colony formation in vitro during the process of nascent epithelial sheet formation as triggered by the calcium switch model of keratinocyte culture. Keratinocytes cultured on pepsin digested type I collagen coated soft (nominal E = 1.2 kPa) polyacrylamide gels embedded with fluorescent microspheres exhibited (i) smaller spread contact areas, (ii) increased migration velocities, and (iii) increased rates of colony formation with more cells per colony than did keratinocytes cultured on stiff (nominal E = 24 kPa) polyacrylamide gels. As assessed by tracking of embedded microsphere displacements, keratinocytes cultured on soft substrates generated large local substrate deformations that appeared to recruit adjacent keratinocytes into joining an evolving colony. Together with the observed differences in keratinocyte kinematics and substrate deformations, we developed two ad hoc analyses, termed distance rank (DR) and radius of cooperativity (RC), that help to objectively ascribe what we perceive as increasingly cooperative behavior of keratinocytes cultured on soft versus stiff gels during the process of colony formation. We hypothesize that the differences in keratinocyte colony formation observed in our experiments could be due to cell-cell mechanical signaling generated via local substrate deformations that appear to be correlated with the increased expression of ?4 integrin within keratinocytes positioned along the periphery of an evolving cell colony.