The impact of substrate stiffness on morphological, transcriptional and functional aspects in RPE

Lasse Wolfram, Clara Gimpel, Melanie Schwämmle, Simon J Clark, Daniel Böhringer, Günther Schlunck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Alterations in the structure and composition of Bruch's membrane (BrM) and loss of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells are associated with various ocular diseases, notably age-related macular degeneration (AMD) as well as several inherited retinal diseases (IRDs). We explored the influence of stiffness as a major BrM characteristic on the RPE transcriptome and morphology. ARPE-19 cells were plated on soft ( E = 30 kPa ) or stiff ( E = 80 kPa ) polyacrylamide gels (PA gels) or standard tissue culture plastic (TCP). Next-generation sequencing (NGS) data on differentially expressed small RNAs (sRNAs) and messenger RNAs (mRNAs) were validated by qPCR, immunofluorescence or western blotting. The microRNA (miRNA) fraction of sRNAs grew with substrate stiffness and distinct miRNAs such as miR-204 or miR-222 were differentially expressed. mRNA targets of differentially expressed miRNAs were stably expressed, suggesting a homeostatic effect of miRNAs. mRNA transcription patterns were substrate stiffness-dependent, including components of Wnt/beta-catenin signaling, Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor (MITF) and Dicer. These findings highlight the relevance of mechanical properties of the extracellular matrix (ECM) in cell culture experiments, especially those focusing on ECM-related diseases, such as AMD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7488
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2024


  • Humans
  • Bruch Membrane
  • Extracellular Matrix/genetics
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Macular Degeneration
  • RNA, Messenger/genetics
  • MicroRNAs/genetics
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium


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