Prof. Alan Rowan and co-workers, and in collaboration with colleagues from Switzerland and France, have published their recent results in Nature Materials. The title of the publication is: Stress-stiffening-mediated stem-cell commitment switch in soft responsive hydrogels.
Bulk matrix stiffness has emerged as a key mechanical cue in stem cell differentiation. Here, we show that the commitment and differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells encapsulated in physiologically soft (~0.2–0.4 kPa), fully synthetic polyisocyanopeptide-based three-dimensional (3D) matrices that mimic the stiffness of adult stem cell niches and show biopolymer-like stress stiffening, can be readily switched from adipogenesis to osteogenesis by changing only the onset of stress stiffening. This mechanical behaviour can be tuned by simply altering the material’s polymer length whilst maintaining stiffness and ligand density. Our findings introduce stress stiffening as an important parameter that governs stem cell fate in a 3D microenvironment, and reveal a correlation between the onset of stiffening and the expression of the microtubule-associated protein DCAMKL1, thus implicating DCAMKL1 in a stress-stiffening-mediated, mechanotransduction pathway that involves microtubule dynamics in stem cell osteogenesis.
Rajat K. Das, Veronika Gocheva, Roel Hammink, Omar F. Zouani & Alan E. Rowan. Stress-stiffening-mediated stem-cell commitment switch in soft responsive hydrogels, Nature Materials (2015), doi:10.1038/nmat4483