Epithelial contact guidance on well-defined micro- and nanostructured substrates

J Cell Sci. 2003 May 15;116(Pt 10):1881-92. doi: 10.1242/jcs.00383.


The human corneal basement membrane has a rich felt-like surface topography with feature dimensions between 20 nm and 200 nm. On the basis of these findings, we designed lithographically defined substrates to investigate whether nanotopography is a relevant stimulus for human corneal epithelial cells. We found that cells elongated and aligned along patterns of grooves and ridges with feature dimensions as small as 70 nm, whereas on smooth substrates, cells were mostly round. The percentage of aligned cells was constant on substrate tomographies with lateral dimensions ranging from the nano- to the micronscale, and increased with groove depth. The presence of serum in the culture medium resulted in a larger percentage of cells aligning along the topographic patterns than when no serum was added to the basal medium. When present, actin microfilaments and focal adhesions were aligned along the substrate topographies. The width of the focal adhesions was determined by the width of the ridges in the underlying substrate. This work documents that biologic length-scale topographic features that model features encountered in the native basement membrane can profoundly affect epithelial cell behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / chemistry
  • Actins / metabolism
  • Basement Membrane / metabolism*
  • Biocompatible Materials / chemistry
  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods*
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cornea / cytology*
  • Cornea / metabolism*
  • Culture Media / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Focal Adhesions / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Microscopy, Video
  • Nanotechnology
  • Surface Properties
  • Time Factors


  • Actins
  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Culture Media