A stem cell niche is defined by various chemical and physical features that influence whether a stem cell remains quiescent, divides, or differentiates. We review mechanical determinants that affect cell fate through actomyosin forces, nucleoskeleton remodeling, and mechanosensitive translocation of transcription factors. Current methods for physical characterization of tissue microenvironments are summarized together with efforts to recapitulate niche mechanics in culture. We focus on mesenchymal stem cells, particularly in osteogenesis and adipogenesis, and on blood stem cells - both of which reside in mechanically diverse marrow microenvironments. Given the explosion of efforts with pluripotent stem cells, the evident mechanosensitivity of clinically relevant, multipotent marrow cells underscores an increasing need to examine and understand in vivo and in vitro physical properties on length scales that cells sense.
Keywords: actomyosin; extracellular matrix; hematopoiesis; mechanotransduction; nucleus; osteogenesis.
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