Beta 1 integrin binding plays a role in the constant traction force generation in response to varying stiffness for cells grown on mature cardiac extracellular matrix

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We have previously reported a unique response of traction force generation for cells grown on mature cardiac ECM, where traction force was constant over a range of stiffnesses. In this study we sought to further investigate the role of the complex mixture of ECM on this response and assess the potential mechanism behind it. Using traction force microscopy, we measured cellular traction forces and stresses for mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) grown on polyacrylamide gels at a range of stiffnesses (9, 25, or 48 kPa) containing either adult rat heart ECM, different singular ECM proteins including collagen I, fibronectin, and laminin, or ECM mimics comprised of varying amounts of collagen I, fibronectin, and laminin. We also measured the expression of integrins on these different substrates as well as probed for β1 integrin binding. There was no significant change in traction force generation for cells grown on the adult ECM, as previously reported, whereas cells grown on singular ECM protein substrates had increased traction force generation with an increase in substrate stiffness. Cells grown on ECM mimics containing collagen I, fibronectin and laminin were found to be reminiscent of the traction forces generated by cells grown on native ECM. Integrin expression generally increased with increasing stiffness except for the β1 integrin, potentially implicating it as playing a role in the response to adult cardiac ECM. We inhibited binding through the β1 integrin on cells grown on the adult ECM and found that the inhibition of β1 binding led to a return to the typical response of increasing traction force generation with increasing stiffness. Our data demonstrates that cells grown on the mature cardiac ECM are able to circumvent typical stiffness related cellular behaviors, likely through β1 integrin binding to the complex composition.

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