Collective cell traction force analysis on aligned smooth muscle cell sheet between three-dimensional microwalls

Ying Zhang, Soon Seng Ng, Yilei Wang, Huixing Feng, Wei Ning Chen, Mary B. Chan-Park, Chuan Li*, Vincent Chan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


During the past two decades, novel biomaterial scaffold for cell attachment and culture has been developed for applications in tissue engineering, biosensing and regeneration medicine. Tissue engineering of blood vessels remains a challenge owing to the complex three-layer histology involved. In order to engineer functional blood vessels, it is essential to recapitulate the characteristics of vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs) inside the tunica media, which is known to be critical for vasoconstriction and vasodilation of the circulatory system. Until now, there has been a lack of understanding on the mechanotransduction of the SMC layer during the transformation from viable synthetic to quiescent contractile phenotypes. In this study, microfabricated arrays of discontinuous microwalls coated with fluorescence microbeads were developed to probe the mechanotransduction of the SMC layer. First, the system was exploited for stimulating the formation of a highly aligned orientation of SMCs in native tunica medium. Second, atomic force microscopy in combination with regression analysis was applied to measure the elastic modulus of a polyacrylamide gel layer coated on the discontinuous microwall arrays. Third, the conventional traction force assay for single cell measurement was extended for applications in three-dimensional cell aggregates. Then, the biophysical effects of discontinuous microwalls on the mechanotransduction of the SMC layer undergoing cell alignment were probed. Generally, the cooperative multiple cell-cell and cell-microwall interactions were accessed quantitatively by the newly developed assay with the aid of finite-element modelling. The results show that the traction forces of highly aligned cells lying in the middle region between two opposing microwalls were significantly lower than those lying adjacent to the microwalls. Moreover, the spatial distributions of Von Mises stress during the cell alignment process were dependent on the collective cell layer orientation. Immunostaining of the SMC sheet further demonstrated that the collective mechanotransduction induced by three-dimensional topographic cues was correlated with the reduction of actin and vinculin expression. In addition, the online twodimensional LC-MS/MS analysis verified the modulation of focal adhesion formation under the influence of microwalls through the regulation in the expression of three key cytoskeletal proteins.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInterface Focus
Issue number2
StatePublished - 6 Apr 2014


  • Aligned smooth muscle cell sheet
  • Cell traction force microscopy
  • Mechanical stress
  • Micropatterned scaffold


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