Stiffness-dependent motility and proliferation uncoupled by deletion of CD44

Sci Rep. 2017 Nov 28;7(1):16499. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-16486-z.


Information in the microenvironment guides complex cellular decisions such as whether or not to proliferate and migrate. The effects of soluble extracellular signals on these cellular functions are fairly well understood, but relatively little is known about how the extracellular matrix (ECM), and particularly the mechanical information in the ECM, guides these cellular decisions. Here, we show that CD44, a major receptor for the glycosaminoglycan ECM component hyaluronan, coordinates the motility and proliferative responses to ECM stiffening. We analyzed these cellular responses on fibronectin-coated polyacrylamide hydrogels prepared at a physiologic range of ECM stiffness and found that stiffening of the ECM leads to both cell cycling and cell motility in serum-stimulated primary mouse dermal fibroblasts. Remarkably, deletion of CD44 impaired stiffness-stimulated motility of the primary cells without affecting other hallmark cellular responses to ECM stiffening including cell spread area, stress fiber formation, focal adhesion maturation, and intracellular stiffening. Even stiffness-mediated cell proliferation was unaffected by deletion of CD44. Our results reveal a novel effect of CD44, which is imposed downstream of ECM-mechanosensing and determines if cells couple or uncouple their proliferative and motility responses to ECM stiffness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Cell Movement / genetics*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Shape
  • Cellular Microenvironment*
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts
  • Gene Deletion*
  • Hyaluronan Receptors / genetics*
  • Male
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Phosphorylation


  • Biomarkers
  • Hyaluronan Receptors