In situ elasticity modulation with dynamic substrates to direct cell phenotype

Biomaterials. 2010 Jan;31(1):1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2009.09.025. Epub 2009 Sep 27.


Microenvironment elasticity influences critical cell functions such as differentiation, cytoskeletal organization, and process extension. Unfortunately, few materials allow elasticity modulation in real time to probe its direct effect on these dynamic cellular processes. Here, a new approach is presented for the photochemical modulation of elasticity within the cell's microenvironment at any point in time. A photodegradable hydrogel was irradiated and degraded under cytocompatible conditions to generate a wide range of elastic moduli similar to soft tissues and characterized using rheometry and atomic force microscopy (AFM). The effect of the elastic modulus on valvular interstitial cell (VIC) activation into myofibroblasts was explored. In these studies, gradient samples were used to identify moduli that either promote or suppress VIC myofibroblastic activation. With this knowledge, VICs were cultured on a high modulus, activating hydrogel substrate, and uniquely, results show that decreasing the substrate modulus with irradiation reverses this activation, demonstrating that myofibroblasts can be de-activated solely by changing the modulus of the underlying substrate. This finding is important for the rational design of biomaterials for tissue regeneration and offers insight into fibrotic disease progression. These photodegradable hydrogels demonstrate the capability to both probe and direct cell function through dynamic changes in substrate elasticity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Elasticity*
  • Hydrogels
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Phenotype
  • Photochemistry
  • Swine


  • Hydrogels