Synthetic extracellular matrices provide a framework in which cells can be exposed to defined physical and biological cues. However no method exists to manipulate single cells within these matrices. It is desirable to develop such methods in order to understand fundamental principles of cell migration and define conditions that support or inhibit cell movement within these matrices. Here, we present a strategy for manipulating individual mammalian stem cells in defined synthetic hydrogels through selective optical activation of Rac, which is an intracellular signaling protein that plays a key role in cell migration. Photoactivated cell migration in synthetic hydrogels depended on mechanical and biological cues in the biomaterial. Real-time hydrogel photodegradation was employed to create geometrically defined channels and spaces in which cells could be photoactivated to migrate. Cell migration speed was significantly higher in the photo-etched channels and cells could easily change direction of movement compared to the bulk hydrogels.
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