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Annu Rev Biophys. 2012;41:519-42. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biophys-042910-155306. Epub 2012 Feb 23.

Forcing stem cells to behave: a biophysical perspective of the cellular microenvironment.

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Integrated Biosystems and Biomechanics Laboratory, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.


Physical factors in the local cellular microenvironment, including cell shape and geometry, matrix mechanics, external mechanical forces, and nanotopographical features of the extracellular matrix, can all have strong influences on regulating stem cell fate. Stem cells sense and respond to these insoluble biophysical signals through integrin-mediated adhesions and the force balance between intracellular cytoskeletal contractility and the resistant forces originated from the extracellular matrix. Importantly, these mechanotransduction processes can couple with many other potent growth-factor-mediated signaling pathways to regulate stem cell fate. Different bioengineering tools and microscale/nanoscale devices have been successfully developed to engineer the physical aspects of the cellular microenvironment for stem cells, and these tools and devices have proven extremely powerful for identifying the extrinsic physical factors and their downstream intracellular signaling pathways that control stem cell functions.

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