ABSTRACT: Cells secrete and assemble extracellular matrix throughout development, giving rise to time-dependent, tissue-specific stiffness. Mimicking myocardial matrix stiffening, i.e. ~10-fold increase over 1 week, with a hydrogel system enhances myofibrillar organization of embryonic cardiomyocytes compared to static hydrogels, and thus we sought to identify specific mechanosensitive proteins involved. Expression and/or phosphorylation state of 309 unique protein kinases were examined in embryonic cardiomyocytes plated on either dynamically stiffening or static mature myocardial stiffness hydrogels. Gene ontology analysis of these kinases identified cardiogenic pathways that exhibited time-dependent up-regulation on dynamic versus static matrices, including PI3K/AKT and p38 MAPK, while GSK3?, a known antagonist of cardiomyocyte maturation, was down-regulated. Additionally, inhibiting GSK3? on static matrices improved spontaneous contraction and myofibril organization, while inhibiting agonist AKT on dynamic matrices reduced myofibril organization and spontaneous contraction, confirming its role in mechanically-driven maturation. Together, these data indicate that mechanically-driven maturation is at least partially achieved via active mechanosensing at focal adhesions, affecting expression and phosphorylation of a variety of protein kinases important to cardiomyogenesis.
Project description:Tissue fibrosis contributes to nearly half of all deaths in the developed world and is characterized by progressive matrix stiffening. Despite this, nearly all in vitro disease models are mechanically static. Here, we used visible light-mediated stiffening hydrogels to investigate cell mechanotransduction in a disease-relevant system. Primary hepatic stellate cell-seeded hydrogels stiffened in situ at later time points (following a recovery phase post-isolation) displayed accelerated signaling kinetics of both early (Yes-associated protein/Transcriptional coactivator with PDZ-binding motif, YAP/TAZ) and late (alpha-smooth muscle actin, ?-SMA) markers of myofibroblast differentiation, resulting in a time course similar to observed in vivo activation dynamics. We further validated this system by showing that ?-SMA inhibition following substrate stiffening resulted in attenuated stellate cell activation, with reduced YAP/TAZ nuclear shuttling and traction force generation. Together, these data suggest that stiffening hydrogels may be more faithful models for studying myofibroblast activation than static substrates and could inform the development of disease therapeutics.
Project description:Breast cancer development is associated with increasing tissue stiffness over years. To more accurately mimic the onset of gradual matrix stiffening, which is not feasible with conventional static hydrogels, mammary epithelial cells (MECs) were cultured on methacrylated hyaluronic acid hydrogels whose stiffness can be dynamically modulated from "normal" (<150 Pascals) to "malignant" (>3,000 Pascals) via two-stage polymerization. MECs form and remain as spheroids, but begin to lose epithelial characteristics and gain mesenchymal morphology upon matrix stiffening. However, both the degree of matrix stiffening and culture time before stiffening play important roles in regulating this conversion as, in both cases, a subset of mammary spheroids remained insensitive to local matrix stiffness. This conversion depended neither on colony size nor cell density, and MECs did not exhibit "memory" of prior niche when serially cultured through cycles of compliant and stiff matrices. Instead, the transcription factor Twist1, transforming growth factor ? (TGF?), and YAP activation appeared to modulate stiffness-mediated signaling; when stiffness-mediated signals were blocked, collective MEC phenotypes were reduced in favor of single MECs migrating away from spheroids. These data indicate a more complex interplay of time-dependent stiffness signaling, spheroid structure, and soluble cues that regulates MEC plasticity than suggested by previous models.
Project description:Tissue-specific elastic modulus (E), or 'stiffness,' arises from developmental changes in the extracellular matrix (ECM) and suggests that progenitor cell differentiation may be optimal when physical conditions mimic tissue progression. For cardiomyocytes, maturing from mesoderm to adult myocardium results in a 9-fold stiffening originating in part from a change in collagen expression and localization. To mimic this temporal stiffness change in vitro, thiolated-hyaluronic acid (HA) hydrogels were crosslinked with poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate, and their dynamics were modulated by changing crosslinker molecular weight. With the hydrogel appropriately tuned to stiffen as heart muscle does during development, pre-cardiac cells grown on collagen-coated HA hydrogels exhibit a 3-fold increase in mature cardiac specific markers and form up to 60% more maturing muscle fibers than they do when grown on compliant but static polyacrylamide hydrogels over 2 weeks. Though ester hydrolysis does not substantially alter hydrogel stiffening over 2 weeks in vitro, model predictions indicate that ester hydrolysis will eventually degrade the material with additional time, implying that this hydrogel may be appropriate for in vivo applications where temporally changing material properties enhance cell maturation prior to its replacement with host tissue.
Project description:The heat shock protein 90 (HSP90) and cell division cycle 37 (CDC37) chaperones are key regulators of protein kinase folding and maturation. Recent evidence suggests that thermodynamic properties of kinases, rather than primary sequences, are recognized by the chaperones. In concordance, we observed a striking difference in HSP90 binding between wild-type (WT) and kinase-dead (KD) glycogen synthase kinase 3? (GSK3?) forms. Using model cell lines stably expressing these two GSK3? forms, we observed no interaction between WT GSK3? and HSP90, in stark contrast to KD GSK3? forming a stable complex with HSP90 at a 1:1 ratio. In a survey of 91 ectopically expressed kinases in DLD-1 cells, we compared two parameters to measure HSP90 dependency: static binding and kinase stability following HSP90 inhibition. We observed no correlation between HSP90 binding and reduced stability of a kinase after pharmacological inhibition of HSP90. We expanded our stability study to >50 endogenous kinases across four cell lines and demonstrated that HSP90 dependency is context dependent. These observations suggest that HSP90 binds to its kinase client in a particular conformation that we hypothesize to be associated with the nucleotide-processing cycle. Lastly, we performed proteomics profiling of kinases and phosphopeptides in DLD-1 cells to globally define the impact of HSP90 inhibition on the kinome.
Project description:Age is the most significant risk factor for atherosclerosis; however, the link between age and atherosclerosis is poorly understood. During both aging and atherosclerosis progression, the blood vessel wall stiffens owing to alterations in the extracellular matrix. Using in vitro and ex vivo models of vessel wall stiffness and aging, we show that stiffening of extracellular matrix within the intima promotes endothelial cell permeability--a hallmark of atherogenesis. When cultured on hydrogels fabricated to match the elasticity of young and aging intima, endothelial monolayers exhibit increased permeability and disrupted cell-cell junctions on stiffer matrices. In parallel experiments, we showed a corresponding increase in cell-cell junction width with age in ex vivo aortas from young (10 weeks) and old (21 to 25 months) healthy mice. To investigate the mechanism by which matrix stiffening alters monolayer integrity, we found that cell contractility increases with increased matrix stiffness, mechanically destabilizing cell-cell junctions. This increase in endothelial permeability results in increased leukocyte extravasation, which is a critical step in atherosclerotic plaque formation. Mild inhibition of Rho-dependent cell contractility using Y-27632, an inhibitor of Rho-associated kinase, or small interfering RNA restored monolayer integrity in vitro and in vivo. Our results suggest that extracellular matrix stiffening alone, which occurs during aging, can lead to endothelial monolayer disruption and atherosclerosis pathogenesis. Because previous therapeutics designed to decrease vascular stiffness have been met with limited success, our findings could be the basis for the design of therapeutics that target the Rho-dependent cellular contractile response to matrix stiffening, rather than stiffness itself, to more effectively prevent atherosclerosis progression.
Project description:Myofibril breakdown is a fundamental cause of muscle wasting and inevitable sequel of aging and disease. We demonstrated that myofibril loss requires depolymerization of the desmin cytoskeleton, which is activated by phosphorylation. Here, we developed a mass spectrometry-based kinase-trap assay and identified glycogen synthase kinase 3-β (GSK3-β) as responsible for desmin phosphorylation. GSK3-β inhibition in mice prevented desmin phosphorylation and depolymerization and blocked atrophy upon fasting or denervation. Desmin was phosphorylated by GSK3-β 3 d after denervation, but depolymerized only 4 d later when cytosolic Ca2+ levels rose. Mass spectrometry analysis identified GSK3-β and the Ca2+-specific protease, calpain-1, bound to desmin and catalyzing its disassembly. Consistently, calpain-1 down-regulation prevented loss of phosphorylated desmin and blocked atrophy. Thus, phosphorylation of desmin filaments by GSK3-β is a key molecular event required for calpain-1-mediated depolymerization, and the subsequent myofibril destruction. Consequently, GSK3-β represents a novel drug target to prevent myofibril breakdown and atrophy.
Project description:There is a growing interest in materials that can dynamically change their properties in the presence of cells to study mechanobiology. Herein, we exploit the 365?nm light mediated [4+4] photodimerization of anthracene groups to develop cytocompatible PEG-based hydrogels with tailorable initial moduli that can be further stiffened. A hydrogel formulation that can stiffen from 10 to 50?kPa, corresponding to the stiffness of a healthy and fibrotic heart, respectively, was prepared. This system was used to monitor the stiffness-dependent localization of NFAT, a downstream target of intracellular calcium signaling using a reporter in live cardiac fibroblasts (CFbs). NFAT translocates to the nucleus of CFbs on stiffening hydrogels within 6?h, whereas it remains cytoplasmic when the CFbs are cultured on either 10 or 50?kPa static hydrogels. This finding demonstrates how dynamic changes in the mechanical properties of a material can reveal the kinetics of mechanoresponsive cell signaling pathways that may otherwise be missed in cells cultured on static substrates.
Project description:The complex network of biochemical and biophysical cues in the pancreatic desmoplasia not only presents challenges to the fundamental understanding of tumor progression, but also hinders the development of therapeutic strategies against pancreatic cancer. Residing in the desmoplasia, pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs) are the major stromal cells affecting the growth and metastasis of pancreatic cancer cells by means of paracrine effects and extracellular matrix protein deposition. PSCs remain in a quiescent/dormant state until they are 'activated' by various environmental cues. While the mechanisms of PSC activation are increasingly being described in literature, the influence of matrix stiffness on PSC activation is largely unexplored. To test the hypothesis that matrix stiffness affects myofibroblastic activation of PSCs, we have prepared cell-laden hydrogels capable of being dynamically stiffened through an enzymatic reaction. The stiffening of the microenvironment was created by using a peptide linker with additional tyrosine residues, which were susceptible to tyrosinase-mediated crosslinking. Tyrosinase catalyzes the oxidation of tyrosine into dihydroxyphenylalanine (DOPA), DOPA quinone, and finally into DOPA dimer. The formation of DOPA dimer led to additional crosslinks and thus stiffening the cell-laden hydrogel. In addition to systematically studying the various parameters relevant to the enzymatic reaction and hydrogel stiffening, we also designed experiments to probe the influence of dynamic matrix stiffening on cell fate. Protease-sensitive peptides were used to crosslink hydrogels, whereas integrin-binding ligands (e.g., RGD motif) were immobilized in the network to afford cell-matrix interaction. PSC-laden hydrogels were placed in media containing tyrosinase for 6h to achieve in situ gel stiffening. We found that PSCs encapsulated and cultured in a stiffened matrix expressed higher levels of ?SMA and hypoxia-inducible factor 1? (HIF-1?), suggestive of a myofibroblastic phenotype. This hydrogel platform offers a facile means of in situ stiffening of cell-laden matrices and should be valuable for probing cell fate process dictated by dynamic matrix stiffness.Hydrogels with spatial-temporal controls over crosslinking kinetics (i.e., dynamic hydrogel) are increasingly being developed for studying mechanobiology in 3D. The general principle of designing dynamic hydrogel is to perform cell encapsulation within a hydrogel network that allows for postgelation modification in gel crosslinking density. The enzyme-mediated in situ gel stiffening is innovative because of the specificity and efficiency of enzymatic reaction. Although tyrosinase has been used for hydrogel crosslinking and in situ cell encapsulation, to the best of our knowledge tyrosinase-mediated DOPA formation has not been explored for in situ stiffening of cell-laden hydrogels. Furthermore, the current work provides a gradual matrix stiffening strategy that may more closely mimic the process of tumor development.
Project description:Arterial hemodynamic shear stress and blood vessel stiffening both significantly influence the arterial endothelial cell (EC) phenotype and atherosclerosis progression, and both have been shown to signal through cell-matrix adhesions. However, the cooperative effects of fluid shear stress and matrix stiffness on ECs remain unknown. To investigate these cooperative effects, we cultured bovine aortic ECs on hydrogels matching the elasticity of the intima of compliant, young, or stiff, aging arteries. The cells were then exposed to laminar fluid shear stress of 12 dyn/cm(2). Cells grown on more compliant matrices displayed increased elongation and tighter EC-cell junctions. Notably, cells cultured on more compliant substrates also showed decreased RhoA activation under laminar shear stress. Additionally, endothelial nitric oxide synthase and extracellular signal-regulated kinase phosphorylation in response to fluid shear stress occurred more rapidly in ECs cultured on more compliant substrates, and nitric oxide production was enhanced. Together, our results demonstrate that a signaling cross talk between stiffness and fluid shear stress exists within the vascular microenvironment, and, importantly, matrices mimicking young and healthy blood vessels can promote and augment the atheroprotective signals induced by fluid shear stress. These data suggest that targeting intimal stiffening and/or the EC response to intima stiffening clinically may improve vascular health.
Project description:The extracellular matrix (ECM) presents an evolving set of mechanical cues to resident cells. We developed methacrylated hyaluronic acid (MeHA) hydrogels containing both stable and hydrolytically degradable crosslinks to provide cells with a gradually softening (but not fully degradable) milieu, mimicking physiological events such as fibrosis regression. To demonstrate the utility of this cell culture system, we studied the phenotype of rat hepatic stellate cells, the major liver precursors of fibrogenic myofibroblasts, within this softening environment. Stellate cells that were mechanically primed on tissue culture plastic attained a myofibroblast phenotype, which persisted when seeded onto stiff (?20 kPa) hydrogels. However, mechanically primed stellate cells on stiff-to-soft (?20 to ?3 kPa) hydrogels showed reversion of the myofibroblast phenotype over 14 days, with reductions in cell area, expression of the myofibroblast marker alpha-smooth muscle actin (?-SMA), and Yes-associated protein/Transcriptional coactivator with PDZ-binding motif (YAP/TAZ) nuclear localization when compared to stellate cells on stiff hydrogels. Cells on stiff-to-soft hydrogels did not fully revert, however. They displayed reduced expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), and underwent abnormally rapid re-activation to myofibroblasts in response to re-stiffening of the hydrogels through introduction of additional crosslinks. These features are typical of stellate cells with an intermediate phenotype, reported to occur in vivo with fibrosis regression and re-injury. Together, these data suggest that mechanics play an important role in fibrosis regression and that integrating dynamic mechanical cues into model systems helps capture cell behaviors observed in vivo.