Stem Cell Mechanosensation on Gelatin Methacryloyl (GelMA) Stiffness Gradient Hydrogels

Claire Kim, Jennifer L. Young, Andrew W. Holle, Kwanghee Jeong, Luke G. Major, Ji Hoon Jeong, Zachary M. Aman, Dong Wook Han, Yongsung Hwang, Joachim P. Spatz, Yu Suk Choi

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74 Citations (Scopus)
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Stiffness gradient hydrogels are a useful platform for studying mechanical interactions between cells and their surrounding environments. Here, we developed linear stiffness gradient hydrogels by controlling the polymerization of gelatin methacryloyl (GelMA) via differential UV penetration with a gradient photomask. Based on previous observations, a stiffness gradient GelMA hydrogel was created ranging from ~ 4 to 13 kPa over 15 mm (0.68 kPa/mm), covering the range of physiological tissue stiffness from fat to muscle, thereby allowing us to study stem cell mechanosensation and differentiation. Adipose-derived stem cells on these gradient hydrogels showed no durotaxis, which allowed for the screening of mechanomarker expression without confounding directed migration effects. In terms of morphological markers, the cell aspect ratio showed a clear positive correlation to the underlying substrate stiffness, while no significant correlation was found in cell size, nuclear size, or nuclear aspect ratio. Conversely, expression of mechanomarkers (i.e., Lamin A, YAP, and MRTFa) all showed a highly significant correlation to stiffness, which could be disrupted via inhibition of non-muscle myosin or Rho/ROCK signalling. Furthermore, we showed that cells plated on stiffer regions became stiffer themselves, and that stem cells showed stiffness-dependent differentiation to fat or muscle as has been previously reported in the literature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)893-902
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of Biomedical Engineering
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


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