Rapid patterning of 1-D collagenous topography as an ECM protein fibril platform for image cytometry.16 Jan 2018
Cellular behavior is strongly influenced by the architecture and pattern of its interfacing extracellular matrix (ECM). For an artificial culture system which could eventually benefit the translation of scientific findings into therapeutic development, the system should capture the key characteristics of a physiological microenvironment. At the same time, it should also enable standardized, high throughput data acquisition. Since an ECM is composed of different fibrous proteins, studying cellular interaction with individual fibrils will be of physiological relevance. In this study, we employ near-field electrospinning to create ordered patterns of collagenous fibrils of gelatin, based on an acetic acid and ethyl acetate aqueous co-solvent system. Tunable conformations of micro-fibrils were directly deposited onto soft polymeric substrates in a single step. We observe that global topographical features of straight lines, beads-on-strings, and curls are dictated by solution conductivity; whereas the finer details such as the fiber cross-sectional profile are tuned by solution viscosity. Using these fibril constructs as cellular assays, we study EA.hy926 endothelial cells' response to ROCK inhibition, because of ROCK's key role in the regulation of cell shape. The fibril array was shown to modulate the cellular morphology towards a pre-capillary cord-like phenotype, which was otherwise not observed on a flat 2-D substrate. Further facilitated by quantitative analysis of morphological parameters, the fibril platform also provides better dissection in the cells' response to a H1152 ROCK inhibitor. In conclusion, the near-field electrospun fibril constructs provide a more physiologically-relevant platform compared to a featureless 2-D surface, and simultaneously permit statistical single-cell image cytometry using conventional microscopy systems. The patterning approach described here is also expected to form the basics for depositing other protein fibrils, seen among potential applications as culture platforms for drug screening.