JOURNAL ARTICLE

Stiffness gradients mimicking in vivo tissue variation regulate mesenchymal stem cell fate

Justin R Tse, Adam J Engler
PloS One 2011, 6 (1): e15978
21246050
Mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) differentiation is regulated in part by tissue stiffness, yet MSCs can often encounter stiffness gradients within tissues caused by pathological, e.g., myocardial infarction ∼8.7±1.5 kPa/mm, or normal tissue variation, e.g., myocardium ∼0.6±0.9 kPa/mm; since migration predominantly occurs through physiological rather than pathological gradients, it is not clear whether MSC differentiate or migrate first. MSCs cultured up to 21 days on a hydrogel containing a physiological gradient of 1.0±0.1 kPa/mm undergo directed migration, or durotaxis, up stiffness gradients rather than remain stationary. Temporal assessment of morphology and differentiation markers indicates that MSCs migrate to stiffer matrix and then differentiate into a more contractile myogenic phenotype. In those cells migrating from soft to stiff regions however, phenotype is not completely determined by the stiff hydrogel as some cells retain expression of a neural marker. These data may indicate that stiffness variation, not just stiffness alone, can be an important regulator of MSC behavior.

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