Assembly of complex cell microenvironments using geometrically docked hydrogel shapes

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Mar 19;110(12):4551-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1300569110. Epub 2013 Mar 4.


Cellular communities in living tissues act in concert to establish intricate microenvironments, with complexity difficult to recapitulate in vitro. We report a method for docking numerous cellularized hydrogel shapes (100-1,000 µm in size) into hydrogel templates to construct 3D cellular microenvironments. Each shape can be uniquely designed to contain customizable concentrations of cells and molecular species, and can be placed into any spatial configuration, providing extensive compositional and geometric tunability of shape-coded patterns using a highly biocompatible hydrogel material. Using precisely arranged hydrogel shapes, we investigated migratory patterns of human mesenchymal stem cells and endothelial cells. We then developed a finite element gradient model predicting chemotactic directions of cell migration in micropatterned cocultures that were validated by tracking ∼2,500 individual cell trajectories. This simple yet robust hydrogel platform provides a comprehensive approach to the assembly of 3D cell environments.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Biocompatible Materials / chemistry*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chemotactic Factors*
  • Coculture Techniques / methods
  • Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells / cytology*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogels / chemistry*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Stem Cell Niche*


  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Chemotactic Factors
  • Hydrogels