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Tissue Eng Part B Rev. 2012 Dec;18(6):436-44. doi: 10.1089/ten.TEB.2012.0014. Epub 2012 Aug 6.

Cytoskeletal and focal adhesion influences on mesenchymal stem cell shape, mechanical properties, and differentiation down osteogenic, adipogenic, and chondrogenic pathways.

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  • 1Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA.


Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) hold great potential for regenerative medicine and tissue-engineering applications. They have multipotent differentiation capabilities and have been shown to differentiate down various lineages, including osteoblasts, adipocytes, chondrocytes, myocytes, and possibly neurons. The majority of approaches to control the MSC fate have been via the use of chemical factors in the form of growth factors within the culture medium. More recently, it has been understood that mechanical forces play a significant role in regulating MSC fate. We and others have shown that mechanical stimuli can control MSC lineage specification. The cytoskeleton is known to play a large role in mechanotransduction, and a growing number of studies are showing that it can also contribute to MSC differentiation. This review analyzes the significant contribution of actin and integrin distribution, and the smaller role of microtubules, in regulating MSC fate. Osteogenic differentiation is more prevalent in MSCs with a stiff, spread actin cytoskeleton and greater numbers of focal adhesions. Both adipogenic differentiation and chondrogenic differentiation are encouraged when MSCs have a spherical morphology associated with a dispersed actin cytoskeleton with few focal adhesions. Different mechanical stimuli can be implemented to alter these cytoskeletal patterns and encourage MSC differentiation to the desired lineage.

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