Geometric control of human stem cell morphology and differentiation

Leo Q. Wan, Sylvia M. Kang, George Eng, Warren L. Grayson, Xin L. Lu, Bo Huo, Jeffrey Gimble, X. Edward Guo, Van C. Mow, Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


During tissue morphogenesis, stem cells and progenitor cells migrate, proliferate, and differentiate, with striking changes in cell shape, size, and acting mechanical stresses. The local cellular function depends on the spatial distribution of cytokines as well as local mechanical microenvironments in which the cells reside. In this study, we controlled the organization of human adipose derived stem cells using micro-patterning technologies, to investigate the influence of multi-cellular form on spatial distribution of cellular function at an early stage of cell differentiation. The underlying role of cytoskeletal tension was probed through drug treatment. Our results show that the cultivation of stem cells on geometric patterns resulted in pattern- and position-specific cell morphology, proliferation and differentiation. The highest cell proliferation occurred in the regions with large, spreading cells (such as the outer edge of a ring and the short edges of rectangles). In contrast, stem cell differentiation co-localized with the regions containing small, elongated cells (such as the inner edge of a ring and the regions next to the short edges of rectangles). The application of drugs that inhibit the formation of actomyosin resulted in the lack of geometrically specific differentiation patterns. This study confirms the role of substrate geometry on stem cell differentiation, through associated physical forces, and provides a simple and controllable system for studying biophysical regulation of cell function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)346-353
Number of pages8
JournalIntegrative Biology
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - Aug 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry


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