Extracellular matrix type modulates mechanotransduction of stem cells

Acta Biomater. 2019 Sep 15;96:310-320. doi: 10.1016/j.actbio.2019.06.048. Epub 2019 Jun 28.


Extracellular matrix (ECM) is comprised of different types of proteins, which change in composition and ratios during morphogenesis and disease progression. ECM proteins provide cell adhesion and impart mechanical cues to the cells. Increasing substrate stiffness has been shown to induce Yes-associated protein (YAP) translocation from the cytoplasm to the nucleus, yet these mechanistic studies used fibronectin only as the biochemical cue. How varying the types of ECM modulates mechanotransduction of stem cells remains largely unknown. Using polyacrylamide hydrogels with tunable stiffness as substrates, here we conjugated four major ECM proteins commonly used for cell adhesion: fibronectin, collagen I, collagen IV and laminin, and assessed the effects of varying ECM type and density on YAP translocation in human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs). For all four ECM types, increasing ECM ligand density alone can induce YAP nuclear translocation without changing substrate stiffness. The ligand threshold for such biochemical ligand-induced YAP translocation differs across ECM types. While stiffness-dependent YAP translocation can be induced by all four ECM types, each ECM requires a different optimized ligand density for this to occur. Using antibody blocking, we further identified integrin subunits specifically involved in mechanotransduction of different ECM types. Finally, we demonstrated that altering ECM type further modulates hMSC osteogenesis without changing substrate stiffness. These findings highlight the important role of ECM type in modulating mechanotransduction and differentiation of stem cells, and call for future mechanistic studies to further elucidate the role of changes in ECM compositions in mediating mechanotransduction during morphogenesis and disease progression. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Our study addresses a critical gap of knowledge in mechanobiology. Increasing substrate stiffness has been shown to induce nuclear YAP translocation, yet only on fibronectin-coated substrates. However, extracellular matrix (ECM) is comprised of different protein types. How varying the type of ECM modulates stem cell mechanotransduction remains largely unknown. We here reveal that the choice of ECM type can directly modulate stem cell mechanotransduction, filling this critical gap. This work has broad impacts in mechanobiology and biomaterials, as it provides the first evidence that varying ECM type can impact YAP translocation independent of substrate stiffness, opening doors for a more rational biomaterials design tuning ECM properties to control cell fate for promoting normal development and for preventing disease progression.

Keywords: ECM; Hydrogel; Mechanotransduction; Stem cells; YAP.

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

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogels / pharmacology
  • Integrins / metabolism
  • Ligands
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Osteogenesis
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism
  • Protein Transport
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Hydrogels
  • Integrins
  • Ligands
  • Protein Subunits
  • Transcription Factors
  • YAP1 (Yes-associated) protein, human