Investigating the Interplay between Inflammation and Matrix Stiffness: Evaluation of Cell Phenotype and Cytoplasmic Stiffness In Vitro


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Virginia Tech


The cellular microenvironment in vivo consists of both mechanical and chemical signals, which drive cell function and fate. These signals include the composition, architecture, and mechanical properties of the extracellular matrix (ECM), signaling molecules secreted by cells into their surroundings, as well as physical interactions between neighboring cells. Cells are able to interact with their surroundings through a number of different mechanisms such as remodeling of the ECM through adhesion, contraction, degradation, and deposition of proteins, as well as the secretion of pro- or anti-inflammatory molecules. In diseased states, where homeostasis has been perturbed, inflammatory signals are secreted which can modify the cellular microenvironment. Diseased states such as cancer and fibrosis are often associated with the excessive production of ECM proteins that subsequently lead to an increase in tissue stiffness and changes to ECM architecture. Such changes to the mechanical properties of the cellular microenvironment affect the cytoskeletal arrangement, migration and adhesion of both the parenchymal cells, as well as immune response cells, which migrate to the sites of injury.

Further understanding of the inflammatory responses and their relationships to tissue stiffness and ECM architecture could aid in the development of novel strategies to predict diseases as well as to target and monitor therapies. Since inflammation and mechanical properties of the affected tissue are closely interlinked, obtaining a detailed understanding of the interplay between the properties of the microenvironment and the cells that reside within it will be very beneficial to obtain physiologically relevant information. We have investigated the combinatorial effects of matrix stiffness, and architecture in the presence of co-cultures of cells to determine the overall effect on cellular responses and phenotypes. We have conducted studies on co-cultures of cells in 2D and 3D environments to identify how cellular behavior is affected by dimensionality.



inflammation, ECM remodeling, liver fibrosis, liver sinusoidal endothelial cells, cytoplasmic stiffness, macrophage fibroblast co-culture