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Content archived on 2024-05-29

Mimicking cadherin-mediated cell adhesion


Cell adhesion is considered to play an important role in many biological functions such as the regulation of organ and tissue development during embryogenesis, and the maintenance of normal tissue structure in the adult organism.

The specificity of cell-adhesion is controlled by genetic expression of receptors at the cell surface, which bind to ligand molecules of target cells or tissue by lock-and-key principles. The cadherins, membrane-spanning glycoproteins, initiate intercellular junctions by homophilic ligation of their extracellular domains in the presence of calcium.

The stability of these adhesive junctions is ensured by the cytoskeletal elements that link indirectly the intracellular cadherin domain with the actin cytoskeleton. The molecular mechanism involved in cadherin-mediated contact formation and in the initiation of signalling cascades upon cadherin binding remains poorly understood.

The goal of this research work at the interface of physics, biology and chemistry is the study of cell-cell adhesion phenomena.

Four different directions will be followed to entangle the chemo-mechanical coupling in adhesion phenomena, namely by
- designing nano-patterned surfaces which mimic adhesion functions for one of the two cell adhesion partner,
- to apply nanostructured surfaces as 'nanorulers' to measure essential length scale in expected adhesion protein clusters,
- to measure adhesion forces for elucidating biological adhesion mechanism by physical means, and
- designing microfluidic devices which allow to quantify responses of cells adhering to well-defined surface patterns due to spatially addressed external chemical cues to cell membranes.

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