The intrinsic architecture of biological tissues and of implanted biomaterials provides cells with large-scale geometrical cues. To understand how cells are able to sense and respond to complex structural environments, a deeper insight into the cellular response to multi-scale and conflicting geometrical cues is needed. In this study, we subjected human bone marrow stromal cells (hBMSCs) to mesoscale cylindrical surfaces (diameter 250–5000 µm) and nanoscale collagen fibrils (diameter 100–200 nm) that were aligned perpendicular to the cylinder axis. On flat surfaces and at low substrate curvatures (cylinder diameter d > 1000 µm), cell alignment and migration were governed by the nanoscale collagen fibrils, consistent with the contact guidance effect. With increasing surface curvature (decreasing cylinder diameter, d < 1000 µm), cells increasingly aligned and migrated along the cylinder axis, i.e. the direction of zero curvature. An increase in phosphorylated myosin light chain levels was observed with increasing substrate curvature, suggesting a link between substrate-induced cell bending and the F-actin–myosin machinery. Taken together, this work demonstrates that geometrical cues of up to 10× cell size can play a dominant role in directing hBMSC alignment and migration and that the effect of nanoscale contact guidance can even be overruled by mesoscale curvature guidance.
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