, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 26-34
Date: 09 Oct 2013

Substrates with Engineered Step Changes in Rigidity Induce Traction Force Polarity and Durotaxis

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Rigidity sensing plays a fundamental role in multiple cell functions ranging from migration, to proliferation and differentiation (Engler et al., Cell 126:677–689, 2006; Lo et al., Biophys. J. 79:144–152, 2000; Wells, Hepatology 47:1394–1400, 2008; Zoldan et al., Biomaterials 32:9612–9621, 2011). During migration, single cells have been reported to preferentially move toward more rigid regions of a substrate in a process termed durotaxis. Durotaxis could contribute to cell migration in wound healing and gastrulation, where local gradients in tissue rigidity have been described. Despite the potential importance of this phenomenon to physiology and disease, it remains unclear how rigidity guides these behaviors and the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms. To investigate the functional role of subcellular distribution and dynamics of cellular traction forces during durotaxis, we developed a unique microfabrication strategy to generate elastomeric micropost arrays patterned with regions exhibiting two different rigidities juxtaposed next to each other. After initial cell attachment on the rigidity boundary of the micropost array, NIH 3T3 fibroblasts were observed to preferentially migrate toward the rigid region of the micropost array, indicative of durotaxis. Additionally, cells bridging two rigidities across the rigidity boundary on the micropost array developed stronger traction forces on the more rigid side of the substrate indistinguishable from forces generated by cells exclusively seeded on rigid regions of the micropost array. Together, our results highlighted the utility of step-rigidity micropost arrays to investigate the functional role of traction forces in rigidity sensing and durotaxis, suggesting that cells could sense substrate rigidity locally to induce an asymmetrical intracellular traction force distribution to contribute to durotaxis.

Associate Editor Michael R. King oversaw the review of this article.
Mark T. Breckenridge and Ravi A. Desai contributed equally to this work.