Stem cells display sensitivity to substrate presentation of topographical cues via changes in cell morphology. These biomechanical responses may be transmitted to the nucleus through cytoskeletal-linked signaling pathways. Here we investigate the influence of aligned substratum topography on the cell morphology and subsequently, the neuronal differentiation capabilities of adult neural stem cells (ANSCs). ANSCs that were cultured on aligned fibers elongated along the major fiber axis. Upon induction of differentiation with retinoic acid, a higher fraction of cells on aligned fibers exhibited markers of neuronal differentiation as compared with cells on random fiber or unpatterned surfaces. This effect was in part due to substrate selectivity, whereby aligned fiber substrates were less receptive to the attachment and continued survival of oligodendrocytes than random fiber or unpatterned substrates. Substrate-induced elongation alone was also effective in upregulating canonical Wnt signaling in ANSCs, which was further potentiated by retinoic acid treatment. These findings suggest a mechanism by which morphological control of stem cells operates in concert with biochemical cues for cell fate determination.
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