Extracellular matrix elasticity and topography: material-based cues that affect cell function via conserved mechanisms

J Biomed Mater Res A. 2015 Mar;103(3):1246-58. doi: 10.1002/jbm.a.35254. Epub 2014 Jun 16.


Chemical, mechanical, and topographic extracellular matrix (ECM) cues have been extensively studied for their influence on cell behavior. These ECM cues alter cell adhesion, cell shape, and cell migration and activate signal transduction pathways to influence gene expression, proliferation, and differentiation. ECM elasticity and topography, in particular, have emerged as material properties of intense focus based on strong evidence these physical cues can partially dictate stem cell differentiation. Cells generate forces to pull on their adhesive contacts, and these tractional forces appear to be a common element of cells' responses to both elasticity and topography. This review focuses on recently published work that links ECM topography and mechanics and their influence on differentiation and other cell behaviors. We also highlight signaling pathways typically implicated in mechanotransduction that are (or may be) shared by cells subjected to topographic cues. Finally, we conclude with a brief discussion of the potential implications of these commonalities for cell based therapies and biomaterial design.

Keywords: cell fate; differentiation; matrix mechanics; mechanotransduction; topography.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biocompatible Materials* / chemistry
  • Biocompatible Materials* / pharmacology
  • Cell Adhesion / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects*
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Cell Shape / drug effects
  • Elasticity*
  • Extracellular Matrix* / chemistry
  • Extracellular Matrix* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*


  • Biocompatible Materials