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Biophys J. 2008 Oct;95(7):3479-87. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.107.124545. Epub 2008 Jun 27.

Substrate stiffness affects the functional maturation of neonatal rat ventricular myocytes.

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  • 1Department of Bioengineering, University of California, San Diego, USA.


Cardiac cells mature in the first postnatal week, concurrent with altered extracellular mechanical properties. To investigate the effects of extracellular stiffness on cardiomyocyte maturation, we plated neonatal rat ventricular myocytes for 7 days on collagen-coated polyacrylamide gels with varying elastic moduli. Cells on 10 kPa substrates developed aligned sarcomeres, whereas cells on stiffer substrates had unaligned sarcomeres and stress fibers, which are not observed in vivo. We found that cells generated greater mechanical force on gels with stiffness similar to the native myocardium, 10 kPa, than on stiffer or softer substrates. Cardiomyocytes on 10 kPa gels also had the largest calcium transients, sarcoplasmic calcium stores, and sarcoplasmic/endoplasmic reticular calcium ATPase2a expression, but no difference in contractile protein. We hypothesized that inhibition of stress fiber formation might allow myocyte maturation on stiffer substrates. Treatment of maturing cardiomyocytes with hydroxyfasudil, an inhibitor of RhoA kinase and stress fiber-formation, resulted in enhanced force generation on the stiffest gels. We conclude that extracellular stiffness near that of native myocardium significantly enhances neonatal rat ventricular myocytes maturation. Deviations from ideal stiffness result in lower expression of sarcoplasmic/endoplasmic reticular calcium ATPase, less stored calcium, smaller calcium transients, and lower force. On very stiff substrates, this adaptation seems to involve RhoA kinase.

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