Mechanical Stimuli Differentially Control Stem Cell Behavior: Morphology, Proliferation, and Differentiation

Biomech Model Mechanobiol. 2011 Dec;10(6):939-53. doi: 10.1007/s10237-010-0285-8. Epub 2011 Jan 21.


Mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapy has demonstrated applications in vascular regenerative medicine. Although blood vessels exist in a mechanically dynamic environment, there has been no rigorous, systematic analysis of mechanical stimulation on stem cell differentiation. We hypothesize that mechanical stimuli, relevant to the vasculature, can differentiate MSCs toward smooth muscle (SMCs) and endothelial cells (ECs). This was tested using a unique experimental platform to differentially apply various mechanical stimuli in parallel. Three forces, cyclic stretch, cyclic pressure, and laminar shear stress, were applied independently to mimic several vascular physiologic conditions. Experiments were conducted using subconfluent MSCs for 5 days and demonstrated significant effects on morphology and proliferation depending upon the type, magnitude, frequency, and duration of applied stimulation. We have defined thresholds of cyclic stretch that potentiate SMC protein expression, but did not find EC protein expression under any condition tested. However, a second set of experiments performed at confluence and aimed to elicit the temporal gene expression response of a select magnitude of each stimulus revealed that EC gene expression can be increased with cyclic pressure and shear stress in a cell-contact-dependent manner. Further, these MSCs also appear to express genes from multiple lineages simultaneously which may warrant further investigation into post-transcriptional mechanisms for controlling protein expression. To our knowledge, this is the first systematic examination of the effects of mechanical stimulation on MSCs and has implications for the understanding of stem cell biology, as well as potential bioreactor designs for tissue engineering and cell therapy applications.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipogenesis / genetics
  • Animals
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Differentiation* / genetics
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Shape* / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / metabolism
  • Osteogenesis / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Lew
  • Stress, Mechanical*
  • Time Factors


  • Muscle Proteins