Published: December 2021
Reciprocity between cells and their surrounding extracellular matrix is one of the main drivers for cellular function and, in turn, matrix maintenance and remodelling. Unravelling how cells respond to their environment is key in understanding mechanisms of health and disease. In all these examples, matrix anisotropy is an important element, since it can alter the cell shape and fate. In this work, the objective is to develop and exploit easy-to-produce platforms that can be used to study the cellular response to natural proteins assembled into diverse topographical cues. We demonstrate a robust and simple approach to form collagen substrates with different topographies by evaporating droplets of a collagen solution. Upon evaporation of the collagen solution, a stain of collagen is left behind, composed of three regions with a distinct pattern: an isotropic region, a concentric ring pattern, and a radially oriented region. The formation and size of these regions can be controlled by the evaporation rate of the droplet and initial collagen concentration. The patterns form topographical cues inducing a pattern-specific cell (tenocyte) morphology, density, and proliferation. Rapid and cost-effective production of different self-agglomerated collagen topographies and their interfaces enables further study of the cell shape-phenotype relationship in vitro. Substrate topography and in analogy tissue architecture remains a cue that can and will be used to steer and understand cell function in vitro, which in turn can be applied in vivo, e.g. in optimizing tissue engineering applications.
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