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J Cell Physiol. 2007 Jun;211(3):661-72.

The regulation of osteogenesis by ECM rigidity in MC3T3-E1 cells requires MAPK activation.

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Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, California 92697, USA.


Once thought to provide only structural support to tissues by acting as a scaffold to which cells bind, it is now widely recognized that the extracellular matrix (ECM) provides instructive signals that dictate cell behavior. Recently we demonstrated that mechanical cues intrinsic to the ECM directly regulate the behavior of pre-osteoblastic MC3T3-E1 cells. We hypothesized that one possible mechanism by which ECM compliance exerts its influence on osteogenesis is by modulating the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway. To address this hypothesis, the differentiation of MC3T3-E1 cells cultured on poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG)-based model substrates with tunable mechanical properties was assessed. Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) levels at days 7 and 14 were found to be significantly higher in cells grown on stiffer substrates (423.9 kPa hydrogels and rigid tissue culture polystyrene (TCPS) control) than on a soft hydrogel (13.7 kPa). Osteocalcin (OCN) and bone sialoprotein (BSP) gene expression levels followed a similar trend. In parallel, MAPK activity was significantly higher in cells cultured on stiffer substrates at both time points. Inhibiting this activation pharmacologically, using PD98059, resulted in significantly lower ALP levels, OCN, and BSP gene expression levels on the hydrogels. Interestingly, the effectiveness of PD98059 was itself dependent on substrate stiffness, with marked inhibition of MAPK phosphorylation in cells grown on compliant hydrogels but insignificant reduction in cells grown on TCPS. Together, these data confirm a role for MAPK in the regulation of osteogenic differentiation by ECM compliance.

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