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Mechanotransduction mediating cell adhesion - towards cell-inspired adaptive materials

Final Report Summary - CELLINSPIRED (Mechanotransduction mediating cell adhesion - towards cell-inspired adaptive materials)

Adhesion is a key event for eukaryotic cells to establish contact with the extracellular matrix and other cells. It allows cells to quickly adapt to mechanical changes in their environment by either adhesion reinforcement or release. Importantly, it is also relevant to many diseases and embryonic development. Within the project “CellInspired”, we have been working on understanding and mimicking the interplay between adhesion reinforcement and release by developing novel force sensors and carrying out mechanotransduction studies. Furthermore, we generated cell-inspired materials that mimic cell mechanics, being highly important for biomaterials to dynamically reproduce mechanical properties of natural cellular environments.

For understanding the forces applied to surfaces through cellular mechanotransduction, we have set up NiTi- and Si-based force sensor arrays and traction force microscopy. The combination of such surface-based force measurements and external force stimuli on cells (by atomic force microscopy or microneedles) has demonstrated that force transduction through cells is extremely inhomogeneous. Our experiments have led to new knowledge about the force-adhesion and force-mechanics relationships in cells. With the setups developed within the project, we studied cell adhesion reinforcement and release as a function of external mechanical stress, stress history, and the biofunctionalization of the adhesive surface.

It is well-known that cells are adaptive, living, dynamic materials that can reinforce their adhesions and change their mechanical properties upon external stress application. Therefore, the second goal of this project was to transfer biophysical knowledge into materials science by generating cell-inspired materials with a dynamic adaptive mechanical response. We now have a demonstrator model at hand that precisely mimics cellular strain-stiffening properties. This result is of high interest for many biomaterials systems that require strain-stiffening properties, including a variety of implant materials.

In conclusion, we have successfully managed to transfer knowledge from biophysics to materials science and have made significant impact in the field of biophysics-inspired materials science.