Hang on tight: reprogramming the cell with microstructural cues

  • Long V. Le
  • Michael A. Mkrtschjan
  • Brenda Russell
  • Tejal A. DesaiEmail author
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Biomedical Micro-Nanotechnologies toward Translation


Cells interact intimately with complex microdomains in their extracellular matrix (ECM) and maintain a delicate balance of mechanical forces through mechanosensitive cellular components. Tissue injury results in acute degradation of the ECM and disruption of cell-ECM contacts, manifesting in loss of cytoskeletal tension, leading to pathological cell transformation and the onset of disease. Recently, microscale hydrogel constructs have been developed to provide cells with microdomains to form focal adhesion binding sites, which enable restoration of cytoskeletal tension. These synthetic anchors can recapitulate the complex 3D architecture of the native ECM to provide microtopographical cues. The mechanical deformation of proteins at the cell surface can activate signaling cascades to modulate downstream gene-level transcription, making this a unique materials-based approach for reprogramming cell behavior. An overview of the mechanisms underlying these mechanosensitive interactions in fibroblasts, stem and other cell types is provided to review their effects on cellular reprogramming. Recent investigations on the fabrication, functionalization and implementation of these materials and microtopographical features for drug testing and therapeutic applications are discussed.


Microtopography Microfabrication Mechanotransduction Extracellular matrix Hydrogel Drug delivery Focal adhesion Cytoskeleton 



This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (P01-HL062426 and R01-HL137209).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Long V. Le
    • 1
  • Michael A. Mkrtschjan
    • 2
  • Brenda Russell
    • 3
  • Tejal A. Desai
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaSan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.Department of BioengineeringUniversity of IllinoisChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Department of Physiology and BiophysicsUniversity of IllinoisChicagoUSA

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