Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences

, Volume 75, Issue 18, pp 3297–3312 | Cite as

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

  • Roman Goetzke
  • Antonio Sechi
  • Laura De Laporte
  • Sabine Neuss
  • Wolfgang Wagner


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.


Biomaterials Epigenetic Embryonic stem cells Hydrogels Induced pluripotent stem cells iPSC Matrix Mesenchymal stromal cells Mechanobiology Soft 



This work was supported by the German Ministry of Education and Research (WW: OBELICS, 01KU1402B), by the RWTH Aachen University within ERS Seed Fund projects (WW and RG: OPSF433; SN: OPBF071), and by the Interdisciplinary Center for Clinical Research (IZKF) within the faculty of Medicine at the RWTH Aachen University (WW: T11-2).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing financial interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Helmholtz Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Stem Cell Biology and Cellular EngineeringRWTH Aachen University Medical SchoolAachenGermany
  2. 2.Institute for Biomedical Engineering – Cell BiologyRWTH Aachen University Medical SchoolAachenGermany
  3. 3.DWI − Leibniz-Institute for Interactive MaterialsAachenGermany
  4. 4.Helmholtz Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Biointerface GroupRWTH Aachen University Medical SchoolAachenGermany
  5. 5.Institute of PathologyRWTH Aachen University Medical SchoolAachenGermany

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