Fibroblast migration correlates with matrix softness. A study in knob-hole engineered fibrin

Christopher León Valdivieso, Jennifer Wedgwood, Enrique Lallana-Ozores, Roberto Donno, Iwan Roberts, Matilde Ghibaudi, Annalisa Tirella, Nicola Tirelli

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The invasion of a matrix by migrating cells is a key step in its remodelling. At least in 2D migration models, cells tend to localize in stiffer areas (durotaxis). Here, we show that mechanical properties affect differently the 3D migration rate: non-proteolytic 3D cell migration is facilitated in softer matrices. In these gels, the modulus was varied by introducing defects in fibres, leaving largely intact the nanostructure. The matrices derive from fibrin via functionalization with a bioinert polymer [poly(ethylene glycol), PEG] through an affinity mechanism identical to that presiding to fibrin own self-assembly. Peptidic end groups on PEG were used to bind fibrinogen globular D regions [GPRP (glycine-proline-arginine-proline) for a holes, GHRP (glycine-histidine-arginine-proline) for b holes; Kd evaluated via isothermal titration calorimetry or fluorescence anisotropy]. In a dose-dependent manner, both PEGylated peptides decreased gel stiffness, but most other properties at a macroscopic [e.g., overall elastic character, strain hardening, and high (>0.5) Poisson ratio] or nano/micro level (fibre dimension and pore size) were largely unaffected, suggesting that the softening effect was due to the introduction of defects within fibres, rather than to differences in the network architecture. In these matrices, the key determinant of fibroblast migration was found to be the elastic modulus, rather than the identity or the dose of the PEGylated peptide; softer materials allowed a faster invasion, even if this meant a higher content of non-adhesive PEG. This does not conflict with fibroblast durotaxis (where stiffness controls accumulation but not necessarily the speed of migration) and indicates a way to fine tune the speed of cell colonization.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAPL Bioengineering
Early online date17 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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