Biophysical and biochemical control of three-dimensional embryonic stem cell differentiation and morphogenesis
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Stem cell differentiation is regulated by the complex interplay of multiple parameters, including adhesive intercellular interactions, cytoskeletal and extracellular matrix remodeling, and gradients of agonists and antagonists that individually and collectively vary as a function of spatial locale and temporal stages of development. Directed differentiation approaches have traditionally focused on the delivery of soluble morphogens and/or the manipulation of culture substrates in two-dimensional, monolayer cultures, with the objective of achieving large yields of homogeneously differentiated cells. However, a more complete understanding of stem cell niche complexity motivates tissue engineering approaches to inform the development of physiologically relevant, biomimetic models of stem cell differentiation. The capacity of pluripotent stem cells to simultaneously differentiate toward multiple tissue-specific cell lineages has prompted the development of new strategies to guide complex, three-dimensional morphogenesis of functional tissue structures. The objective of this project was to characterize the spatiotemporal dynamics of stem cell biophysical characteristics and morphogenesis, to inform the development of ESC culture technologies to present defined and tunable cues within the three-dimensional spheroid microenvironment. The hypothesis was that the biophysical and biochemical cues present within the 3D microenvironment are altered in conjunction with morphogenesis as a function of stem cell differentiation stage. Understanding biochemical and physical tissue morphogenesis, including the relationships between remodeling of cytoskeletal elements and intercellular adhesions, associated developmentally relevant signaling pathways, and the physical properties of the EB structure together elucidate fundamental cellular interactions governing embryonic morphogenesis and cell specification. Together, this project has established a foundation for controlling, characterizing, and systematically perturbing aspects of stem cell microenvironments in order to guide the development of complex, functional tissue structures for regenerative therapies.