Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that are capable of proliferation, self-maintenance and differentiation towards specific cell phenotypes. These processes are controlled by a variety of cues including physicochemical factors associated with the specific mechanical environment in which the cells reside. The control of stem cell biology through mechanical factors remains poorly understood and is the focus of the developing field of mechanobiology. This review provides an insight into the current knowledge of the role of mechanical forces in the induction of differentiation of stem cells. While the details associated with individual studies are complex and typically associated with the stem cell type studied and model system adopted, certain key themes emerge. First, the differentiation process affects the mechanical properties of the cells and of specific subcellular components. Secondly, that stem cells are able to detect and respond to alterations in the stiffness of their surrounding microenvironment via induction of lineage-specific differentiation. Finally, the application of external mechanical forces to stem cells, transduced through a variety of mechanisms, can initiate and drive differentiation processes. The coalescence of these three key concepts permit the introduction of a new theory for the maintenance of stem cells and alternatively their differentiation via the concept of a stem cell 'mechano-niche', defined as a specific combination of cell mechanical properties, extracellular matrix stiffness and external mechanical cues conducive to the maintenance of the stem cell population.<br/><br/
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