The mechanical properties of the extracellular microenvironment, including its stiffness, play a crucial role in stem cell fate determination. Although previous studies have demonstrated that the developing brain exhibits spatiotemporal diversity in stiffness, it remains unclear how stiffness regulates stem cell fate towards specific neural lineages. Here, we established a culture substrate that reproduces the stiffness of brain tissue using tilapia collagen for in vitro reconstitution assays. By adding crosslinkers, we obtained gels that are similar in stiffness to living brain tissue (150–1500 Pa). We further examined the capability of the gels serving as a substrate for stem cell culture and the effect of stiffness on neural lineage differentiation using human iPS cells. Surprisingly, exposure to gels with a stiffness of approximately 1500 Pa during the early period of neural induction promoted the production of dorsal cortical neurons. These findings suggest that brain-stiffness-mimicking gel has the potential to determine the terminal neural subtype. Taken together, the crosslinked tilapia collagen gel is expected to be useful in various reconstitution assays that can be used to explore the role of stiffness in neurogenesis and neural functions. The enhanced production of dorsal cortical neurons may also provide considerable advantages for neural regenerative applications.
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