Shape-Morphing Photoresponsive Hydrogels Reveal Dynamic Topographical Conditioning of Fibroblasts

Maaike Bril, Aref Saberi, Ignasi Jorba, Mark C. van Turnhout, Cecilia M. Sahlgren, Carlijn V.C. Bouten, Albert P.H.J. Schenning, Nicholas A. Kurniawan

Published: 2023

The extracellular environment defines a physical boundary condition with which cells interact. However, to date, cell response to geometrical environmental cues is largely studied in static settings, which fails to capture the spatiotemporally varying cues cells receive in native tissues. Here, a photoresponsive spiropyran-based hydrogel is presented as a dynamic, cell-compatible, and reconfigurable substrate. Local stimulation with blue light (455 nm) alters hydrogel swelling, resulting in on-demand reversible micrometer-scale changes in surface topography within 15 min, allowing investigation into cell response to controlled geometry actuations. At short term (1 h after actuation), fibroblasts respond to multiple rounds of recurring topographical changes by reorganizing their nucleus and focal adhesions (FA). FAs form primarily at the dynamic regions of the hydrogel; however, this propensity is abolished when the topography is reconfigured from grooves to pits, demonstrating that topographical changes dynamically condition fibroblasts. Further, this dynamic conditioning is found to be associated with long-term (72 h) maintenance of focal adhesions and epigenetic modifications. Overall, this study offers a new approach to dissect the dynamic interplay between cells and their microenvironment and shines a new light on the cell’s ability to adapt to topographical changes through FA-based mechanotransduction.

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