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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2005 May;98(5):1909-21. Epub 2004 Dec 23.

Extracellular matrix (ECM) microstructural composition regulates local cell-ECM biomechanics and fundamental fibroblast behavior: a multidimensional perspective.

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  • 1School of Mechanical Engineering, School of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA.


The extracellular matrix (ECM) provides the principal means by which mechanical information is communicated between tissue and cellular levels of function. These mechanical signals play a central role in controlling cell fate and establishing tissue structure and function. However, little is known regarding the mechanisms by which specific structural and mechanical properties of the ECM influence its interaction with cells, especially within a tissuelike context. This lack of knowledge precludes formulation of biomimetic microenvironments for effective tissue repair and replacement. The present study determined the role of collagen fibril density in regulating local cell-ECM biomechanics and fundamental fibroblast behavior. The model system consisted of fibroblasts seeded within collagen ECMs with controlled microstructure. Confocal microscopy was used to collect multidimensional images of both ECM microstructure and specific cellular characteristics. From these images temporal changes in three-dimensional cell morphology, time- and space-dependent changes in the three-dimensional local strain state of a cell and its ECM, and spatial distribution of beta1-integrin were quantified. Results showed that fibroblasts grown within high-fibril-density ECMs had decreased length-to-height ratios, increased surface areas, and a greater number of projections. Furthermore, fibroblasts within low-fibril-density ECMs reorganized their ECM to a greater extent, and it appeared that beta1-integrin localization was related to local strain and ECM remodeling events. Finally, fibroblast proliferation was enhanced in low-fibril-density ECMs. Collectively, these results are significant because they provide new insight into how specific physical properties of a cell's ECM microenvironment contribute to tissue remodeling events in vivo and to the design and engineering of functional tissue replacements.

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