A family of polymer substrates which consists of a vinyl backbone chain with the side groups -COO(CH2)xH, with x = 1, 2, 4, was prepared. Substrates with similar chemical groups but decreasing stiffness, characterized by their elastic modulus at 37 °C, as well as surface mobility, characterized by the glass transition temperature, were obtained. We have investigated whether these subtle variations in polymer chemistry lead to alterations in fibronectin (FN) adsorption and mesenchymal stem cell response. The same FN density was adsorbed on every substrate (∼450 ng cm -2) although the supramolecular organization of the protein at the material interface, as obtained with AFM, was different for x = 1 and the other two surfaces (x = 2, 4). Consequently, this allows one to investigate the effect of physical properties of the matrix on stem cell differentiation after ruling out any influence of protein activity. Cell adhesion was quantified by calculating the size distribution of focal adhesions. Mesenchymal stem cell differentiation to the osteoblastic lineage was determined by quantifying protein levels for osteocalcin, osteopontin and Runx2, in the absence of any additional osteogenic soluble factors in the culture media, but as a direct effect of material properties. The findings indicate the potential to modulate skeletal progenitor cell commitment to the osteoblastic lineage through surface mobility of the underlying material surface.
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