The mechanical and structural properties of the extracellular matrix (ECM) play an important role in regulating cell fate. The natural ECM has a complex fibrillar structure and shows nonlinear mechanical properties, which are both difficult to mimic synthetically. Therefore, systematically testing the influence of ECM properties on cellular behavior is very challenging. In this work we show two different approaches to tune the fibrillar structure and mechanical properties of fibrin hydrogels. Addition of extra thrombin before gelation increases the protein density within the fibrin fibers without significantly altering the mechanical properties of the resulting hydrogel. On the other hand, by forming a composite hydrogel with a synthetic biomimetic polyisocyanide network the protein density within the fibrin fibers decreases, and the mechanics of the composite material can be tuned by the PIC/fibrin mass ratio. The effect of the changes in gel structure and mechanics on cellular behavior are investigated, by studying human mesenchymal stem cell (hMSC) spreading and differentiation on these gels. We find that the trends observed in cell spreading and differentiation cannot be explained by the bulk mechanics of the gels, but correlate to the density of the fibrin fibers the gels are composed of. These findings strongly suggest that the microscopic properties of individual fibers in fibrous networks play an essential role in determining cell behavior.

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Publisher Taylor & Francis
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Journal Cell Adhes. Migr.
Bruekers, S.M.C, Jaspers, M, Hendriks, J.M.A, Kurniawan, N.A, Koenderink, G.H, Kouwer, P.H.J, … Huck, W.T.S. (2016). Fibrin-fiber architecture influences cell spreading and differentiation. Cell Adhes. Migr., 10(4), 1–10. doi:10.1080/19336918.2016.1151607