Vascular Smooth Muscle Cell Durotaxis Depends on Substrate Stiffness Gradient Strength


AbstractMechanical compliance is emerging as an important environmental cue that can influence certain cell behaviors, such as morphology and motility. Recent in vitro studies have shown that cells preferentially migrate from less stiff to more stiff substrates; however, much of this phenomenon, termed durotaxis, remains ill-defined. To address this problem, we studied the morphology and motility of vascular smooth muscle cells on well-defined stiffness gradients. Baselines for cell spreading, polarization, and random motility on uniform gels with moduli ranging from 5 to 80 kPa were found to increase with increasing stiffness. Subsequent analysis of the behavior of vascular smooth muscle cells on gradient substrata (0–4 kPa/100 μm, with absolute moduli of 1–80 kPa) demonstrated that the morphology on gradient gels correlated with the absolute modulus. In contrast, durotaxis (evaluated quantitatively as the tactic index for a biased persistent random walk) and cell orientation with respect to the gradient both increased with increasing magnitude of gradient, but were independent of the absolute modulus. These observations provide a foundation for establishing quantitative relationships between gradients in substrate stiffness and cell response. Moreover, these results reveal common features of phenomenological cell response to chemotactic and durotactic gradients, motivating further mechanistic studies of how cells integrate and respond to multiple complex signals

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This paper was published in Elsevier - Publisher Connector .

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