How cells respond to environmental cues – insights from bio-functionalized substrates

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Biomimetic materials have long been the (he)art of bioengineering. They usually aim at mimicking in vivo conditions to allow in vitro culture, differentiation and expansion of cells. The past decade has witnessed a considerable amount of progress in soft lithography, bio-inspired micro-fabrication and biochemistry, allowing the design of sophisticated and physiologically relevant micro- and nano-environments. These systems now provide an exquisite toolbox with which we can control a large set of physicochemical environmental parameters that determine cell behavior. Bio-functionalized surfaces have evolved from simple protein-coated solid surfaces or cellular extracts into nano-textured 3D surfaces with controlled rheological and topographical properties. The mechanobiological molecular processes by which cells interact and sense their environment can now be unambiguously understood down to the single-molecule level. This Commentary highlights recent successful examples where bio-functionalized substrates have contributed in raising and answering new questions in the area of extracellular matrix sensing by cells, cell–cell adhesion and cell migration. The use, the availability, the impact and the challenges of such approaches in the field of biology are discussed.


© 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd

Verena RuprechtPascale MonzoAndrea RavasioZhang YueEkta MakhijaPierre Olivier StraleNils GauthierG. V. ShivashankarVincent StuderCorinne Albiges-RizoVirgile Viasnoff