Introduction: Substrate stiffness regulates cellular behavior as cells experience different stiffness values of tissues in the body. For example, endothelial cells (ECs) covering the inner layer of blood vessels are exposed to different stiffness values due to various pathologic and physiologic conditions. Despite numerous studies, cells by time span sense mechanical properties of the substrate, but the response is not well understood. We hypothesized that time is a major determinant influencing the behavior of cells seeded on substrates of varying stiffness. Methods: We monitored cell spreading, internal structure, 3D topography, and the viability of ECs over 24 hours of culture on polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) substrates with two different degrees of elastic modulus. Results: Despite significant differences in cell spreading after cell seeding, cells showed a similar shape and internal structure after 24 hours of culture on both soft and stiff substrates. However, 3D topographical images confirmed existence of rich lamellipodia and filopodia around the cells cultured on stiffer PDMS substrates. Conclusion: It was concluded that the response of ECs to the substrate stiffness was time dependent with initial enhanced cellular spreading and viability on stiffer substrates. Results can provide a better comprehension of cell mechanotransduction for tissue engineering applications.
Keywords: 3D topography; HUVECs; Morphology; Substrate stiffness; Time dependency.