Deciphering key cell-matrix interactions in differentiation and disease of the 3D musculoskeletal system tissues

Group: Nanobioengineering
Co-Directors: Anna Lagunas, J. Samitier (,

Cell environment is an essential regulator in development and in tissue functioning. This regulation is exerted hierarchically from the nanoscale with impact at the macroscopic levels.

Transmission of matrix information to cells and inside the tissue occurs at the cell membrane. There, nanoclusters of membrane receptors are formed as a compartmentalization ubiquitous strategy for signal transduction. At the Nanobioengineering group we are interested in the development of molecular tools that aid at deciphering the cell-matrix interactions at the nanoscale and their impact in 3D tissue formation and in tissue disease alteration.

The current PhD thesis project aims at recapitulating the extracellular matrix (ECM) characteristics at molecular, nano and meso levels that determine cell behavior and cell to cell information transmission. Applications will be focused in cell differentiation and disease-related active ECM remodeling involving the musculoskeletal system. To reach this goal, the student will familiarize with the physico-chemical and biological tools currently used in the laboratory to induce and control cell behavior such as nanopatterning and tailor extracellular matrix production in 3D cell culture. Different cell biology characterization techniques will be combined with surface characterization, live imaging and data processing to address the mechanical and chemical events driving cell-matrix interactions.

Mesenchymal condensation on dendrimer-based nanopatterns. Left: Atomic force microscopy image of 2.5×2.5 µm of a nanopattern presenting maximum surface adhesiveness. Right: mesenchymal condensates on the nanopatterns. Adhesion characteristics of the nanopatterned substrate decrease from left to the right. Cell nuclei in blue. Matrix protein Collagen (COL2A1) in green in the first row, focal adhesion adaptor protein paxillin in red and actin cortex in green in the second row, and gap junction protein connexin (Cx43) in red in the third row. Scale = 20 µm.