Matrix Stiffness: A Regulator of Cellular Behavior and Tissue Formation

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Abstract

The extracellular environment is an essential mediator of cell health and provides both chemical and mechanical stimuli to influence single and collective cell behaviors. While historically there has been significant emphasis placed on chemical regulators within the extracellular matrix, the role of the mechanical environment is less well known. Here, we review the role of matrix mechanics on cell function and tissue integrity. Cellular responses to mechanical signals include differentiation, migration, proliferation, and alterations in cell–cell and cell–matrix adhesion. Interestingly, the mechanical properties of tissues are altered in many disease states, leading to cellular dysfunction and further disease progression. Successful regenerative medicine strategies must consider the native mechanical environment so that they are able to elicit a favorable cellular response and integrate into the native tissue structure.