Extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins are key mediators of cell/material interactions. The surface density and conformation of these proteins adsorbed on the material surface influence cell adhesion and the cellular response. We have previously shown that subtle variations in surface chemistry lead to drastic changes in the conformation of adsorbed fibronectin (FN). On poly(ethyl acrylate) (PEA), FN unfolds and displays domains for cell adhesion and FN-FN interaction, whereas on poly(methyl acrylate) (PMA) – with only one methyl group less – FN remains globular as it is in solution. The effect of the strength of the protein/material interaction in cell response, and its relation to protein density and conformation, has received limited attention so far. In this work, we used FN-functionalized AFM cantilevers to evaluate, via force spectroscopy, the strength of interaction between fibronectin and the underlying polymer which controls FN conformation (PEA and PMA). We found that the strength of FN/PEA interaction is significantly higher than FN/PMA, which limits the mobility of FN layer on PEA, reduces the ability of cells to mechanically reorganize FN and then leads to enhanced proteolysis and degradation of the surrounding matrix with compromised cell viability. By contrast, both PEA and PMA support cell adhesion when FN density is increased and also in the presence of serum or other serum proteins, including vitronectin (VN) and bovine serum albumin (BSA), which provide a higher degree of mobility to the matrix. Statement of Significance: The identification of parameters influencing cell response is of paramount importance for the design of biomaterials that will act as synthetic scaffolds for cells to anchor, grow and, eventually, become specialised tissues. Cells interact with materials through an intermediate layer of proteins adsorbed on the material surface. It is known that the density and conformation of these proteins determine cell behaviour. Here we show that the strength of protein/material interactions, which has received very limited attention so far, is key to understand the cellular response to biomaterials. Very strong protein/material interactions reduce the ability of cells to mechanically reorganize proteins at the material interface which results in enhanced matrix degradation, leading ultimately to compromised cell viability.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biomedical Engineering
- Molecular Biology