3D collagen cultures under well-defined dynamic strain: a novel strain device with a porous elastomeric support

Biotechnol Bioeng. 2009 May 1;103(1):217-25. doi: 10.1002/bit.22236.


The field of mechanobiology has grown tremendously in the past few decades, and it is now well accepted that dynamic stresses and strains can impact cell and tissue organization, cell-cell and cell-matrix communication, matrix remodeling, cell proliferation and apoptosis, cell migration, and many other cell behaviors in both physiological and pathophysiological situations. Natural reconstituted matrices like collagen and fibrin are often used for three-dimensional (3D) mechanobiology studies because they naturally form fibrous architectures and are rich in cell adhesion sites; however, they are physically weak and typically contain >99% water, making it difficult to apply dynamic stresses to them in a truly 3D context. Here we present a composite matrix and strain device that can support natural matrices within a macroporous elastic structure of polyurethane. We characterize this system both in terms of its mechanical behavior and its ability to support the growth and in vivo-like behaviors of primary human lung fibroblasts cultured in collagen. The porous polyurethane was created with highly interconnected pores in the hundreds of microm size scale, so that while it did not affect cell behavior in the collagen gel within the pores, it could control the overall elastic behavior of the entire tissue culture system. In this way, a well-defined dynamic strain could be imposed on the 3D collagen and cells within the collagen for several days (with elastic recoil driven by the polyurethane) without the typical matrix contraction by fibroblasts when cultured in 3D collagen gels. We show lung fibroblast-to-myofibroblast differentiation under 30%, 0.1 Hz dynamic strain to validate the model and demonstrate its usefulness for a wide range of tissue engineering applications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation
  • Collagen / biosynthesis*
  • Fibroblasts / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Organ Culture Techniques


  • Collagen