Stem cell fate has been linked to the mechanical properties of their underlying substrate, affecting mechanoreceptors and ultimately leading to downstream biological response. Studies have used polymers to mimic the stiffness of extracellular matrix as well as of individual tissues and shown mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) could be directed along specific lineages. In this study, we examined the role of stiffness in MSC differentiation to two closely related cell phenotypes: osteoblast and chondrocyte. We prepared four methyl acrylate/ methyl methacrylate (MA/MMA) polymer surfaces with elastic moduli ranging from 0.1 MPa to 310 MPa by altering monomer concentration. MSCs were cultured in media without exogenous growth factors and their biological responses were compared to committed chondrocytes and osteoblasts. Both chondrogenic and osteogenic markers were elevated when MSCs were grown on substrates with stiffness <10 MPa. Like chondrocytes, MSCs on lower stiffness substrates showed elevated expression of ACAN, SOX9, and COL2 and proteoglycan content; COMP was elevated in MSCs but reduced in chondrocytes. Substrate stiffness altered levels of RUNX2 mRNA, alkaline phosphatase specific activity, osteocalcin, and osteoprotegerin in osteoblasts, decreasing levels on the least stiff substrate. Expression of integrin subunits α1, α2, α5, αv, β1, and β3 changed in a stiffness- and cell type-dependent manner. Silencing of integrin subunit beta 1 (ITGB1) in MSCs abolished both osteoblastic and chondrogenic differentiation in response to substrate stiffness. Our results suggest that substrate stiffness is an important mediator of osteoblastic and chondrogenic differentiation, and integrin β1 plays a pivotal role in this process.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)