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Acta Biomater. 2013 Jan;9(1):4635-44. doi: 10.1016/j.actbio.2012.08.007. Epub 2012 Aug 16.

Tuning three-dimensional collagen matrix stiffness independently of collagen concentration modulates endothelial cell behavior.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Numerous studies have described the effects of matrix stiffening on cell behavior using two-dimensional synthetic surfaces; however, less is known about the effects of matrix stiffening on cells embedded in three-dimensional in vivo-like matrices. A primary limitation in investigating the effects of matrix stiffness in three dimensions is the lack of materials that can be tuned to control stiffness independently of matrix density. Here, we use collagen-based scaffolds where the mechanical properties are tuned using non-enzymatic glycation of the collagen in solution, prior to polymerization. Collagen solutions glycated prior to polymerization result in collagen gels with a threefold increase in compressive modulus without significant changes to the collagen architecture. Using these scaffolds, we show that endothelial cell spreading increases with matrix stiffness, as does the number and length of angiogenic sprouts and the overall spheroid outgrowth. Differences in sprout length are maintained even when the receptor for advanced glycation end products is inhibited. Our results demonstrate the ability to de-couple matrix stiffness from matrix density and structure in collagen gels, and that increased matrix stiffness results in increased sprouting and outgrowth.

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