Analysis of Integrin-mediated Cell Adhesion Strengthening Using Surfaces Engineered to Control Cell Shape and Focal Adhesion Assembly
Gallant, Nathan D.
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Cell adhesion to extracellular matrix proteins is critical to physiological and pathological processes as well as biomedical and biotechnological applications. Cell adhesion is a highly regulated process involving initial receptor-ligand binding, and subsequent clustering of these receptors and rapid association with the actin cytoskeleton as focal adhesions are assembled. Focal adhesions enhance adhesion, functioning as structural links between the cytoskeleton and the extracellular matrix and triggering signaling pathways that direct cell function. The objective of this thesis research is to develop a mechanical and biochemical analysis of the adhesion strengthening response. Our central hypothesis was that focal adhesion size and position regulate cell adhesion strength by controlling the distribution of mechanical loading. We engineered micropatterned surfaces to control the size and position of focal adhesions in order to analyze the contributions of these specialized adhesive structures to adhesion strengthening. By applying surface micropatterning techniques, we showed robust control over cell-substrate contact area and focal adhesion assembly. Using a hydrodynamic shear assay to quantify adhesion strength to micropatterned substrates, we observed significant adhesive area- and time-dependent increases in adhesion strength. Complimentary biochemical assays allowed us to probe the role of structural proteins recruited to focal adhesions and examine the structure-function relationships between these adhesive structures and adhesion strength. These findings provide insights into the role of focal adhesions in adhesion strengthening, and may contribute to tissue engineering and biomaterials applications.