Why the impact of mechanical stimuli on stem cells remains a challenge

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2018 Sep;75(18):3297-3312. doi: 10.1007/s00018-018-2830-z. Epub 2018 May 4.


Mechanical stimulation affects growth and differentiation of stem cells. This may be used to guide lineage-specific cell fate decisions and therefore opens fascinating opportunities for stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. Several studies demonstrated functional and molecular effects of mechanical stimulation but on first sight these results often appear to be inconsistent. Comparison of such studies is hampered by a multitude of relevant parameters that act in concert. There are notorious differences between species, cell types, and culture conditions. Furthermore, the utilized culture substrates have complex features, such as surface chemistry, elasticity, and topography. Cell culture substrates can vary from simple, flat materials to complex 3D scaffolds. Last but not least, mechanical forces can be applied with different frequency, amplitude, and strength. It is therefore a prerequisite to take all these parameters into consideration when ascribing their specific functional relevance-and to only modulate one parameter at the time if the relevance of this parameter is addressed. Such research questions can only be investigated by interdisciplinary cooperation. In this review, we focus particularly on mesenchymal stem cells and pluripotent stem cells to discuss relevant parameters that contribute to the kaleidoscope of mechanical stimulation of stem cells.

Keywords: Biomaterials; Embryonic stem cells; Epigenetic; Hydrogels; Induced pluripotent stem cells; Matrix; Mechanobiology; Mesenchymal stromal cells; Soft; iPSC.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Dimethylpolysiloxanes / pharmacology
  • Elasticity*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogels / chemistry
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / drug effects
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Plastics / pharmacology
  • Shear Strength*


  • Dimethylpolysiloxanes
  • Hydrogels
  • Plastics
  • baysilon