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Soft culture substrates favor stem-like cellular phenotype and facilitate reprogramming of human mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (hMSCs) through mechanotransduction

Authors: Gerardo, H; Lima, A; Carvalho, J; Ramos, JRD ; Couceiro, S ; Travasso, RDM; das Neves, RP; Graos, M

Ref.: Sci. Rep. 9, 9086 (2019)

Abstract: Biophysical cues influence many aspects of cell behavior. Stiffness of the extracellular matrix is probed by cells and transduced into biochemical signals through mechanotransduction protein networks, strongly influencing stem cell behavior. Cellular stemness is intimately related with mechanical properties of the cell, like intracellular contractility and stiffness, which in turn are influenced by the microenvironment. Pluripotency is associated with soft and low-contractility cells. Hence, we postulated that soft cell culture substrates, presumably inducing low cellular contractility and stiffness, increase the reprogramming efficiency of mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs) into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). We demonstrate that soft substrates (1.5 or 15 kPa polydimethylsiloxane – PDMS) caused modulation of several cellular features of MSCs into a phenotype closer to pluripotent stem cells (PSCs). MSCs cultured on soft substrates presented more relaxed nuclei, lower maturation of focal adhesions and F-actin assembling, more euchromatic and less heterochromatic nuclear DNA regions, and increased expression of pluripotency-related genes. These changes correlate with the reprogramming of MSCs, with a positive impact on the kinetics, robustness of colony formation and reprogramming efficiency. Additionally, substrate stiffness influences several phenotypic features of iPS cells and colonies, and data indicates that soft substrates favor full iPSC reprogramming.

DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-45352-3