Substrate stiffness and contractile behaviour modulate the functional maturation of osteoblasts on a collagen-GAG scaffold

Acta Biomater. 2010 Nov;6(11):4305-13. doi: 10.1016/j.actbio.2010.06.001. Epub 2010 Jun 8.


Anchorage-dependent cells respond to the mechanical and physical properties of biomaterials. One such cue is the mechanical stiffness of a material. We compared the osteogenic potential of collagen-glycosaminoglycan (CG) scaffolds with varying stiffness for up to 6 weeks in culture. The mechanical stiffness of CG scaffolds were varied by cross-linking by physical (dehydrothermal (DHT)) and chemical (1-ethyl-3-(3-dimethyl aminopropyl) carbodiimide (EDAC) and glutaraldehyde (GLUT)) methods. The results showed that all CG substrates allowed cellular attachment, infiltration and osteogenic differentiation. CG scaffolds treated with EDAC and GLUT were mechanically stiffer, retained their original scaffold structure and resisted cellular contraction. Consequently, they facilitated a 2-fold greater cell number, probably due to the pore architecture being maintained, allowing improved diffusion of nutrients. On the other hand, the less stiff substrates cross-linked with DHT allowed increased cell-mediated scaffold contraction, contracting by 70% following 6 weeks (P < 0.01) of culture. This reduction in scaffold area resulted in cells reaching the centre of the scaffold quicker up to 4 weeks; however, at 6 weeks all scaffolds showed similar levels of cellular infiltration, with higher cell numbers found on the stiffer EDAC- and GLUT-treated scaffolds. Analysis of osteogenesis showed that scaffolds cross-linked with DHT expressed higher levels of the late stage bone formation markers osteopontin and osteocalcin (P < 0.01) and increased levels of mineralisation. In conclusion, the more compliant CG scaffolds allowed cell-mediated contraction and supported a greater level of osteogenic maturation of MC3T3 cells, while the stiffer, non-contractible scaffolds resulted in lower levels of cell maturation, but higher cell numbers on the scaffold. Therefore, we found scaffold stiffness had different effects on differentiation and cell number whereby the increased cell-mediated contraction facilitated by the less stiff scaffolds positively modulated osteoblast differentiation while reducing cell numbers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Biocompatible Materials / pharmacology*
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Calcification, Physiologic / drug effects
  • Cattle
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects*
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Collagen / pharmacology*
  • Compressive Strength / drug effects
  • Cross-Linking Reagents / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Glycosaminoglycans / pharmacology*
  • Mice
  • Osteoblasts / cytology*
  • Osteoblasts / drug effects*
  • Osteoblasts / metabolism
  • Staining and Labeling
  • Time Factors
  • Tissue Scaffolds / chemistry*


  • Actins
  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Biomarkers
  • Cross-Linking Reagents
  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Collagen