3D “Squeeze” Helps Adult Cells Become Stem Cells
Reported by: Irina Robu, PhD
Scientists based at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne led by Matthias Lutolf have been engineering 3D extracellular matrices—gels. These scientists report that they have developed a gel that boosts the ability of normal cells to revert into stem cells by simply “squeezing” them.
The detail of the scientists’ work appeared in Nature Materials, January 11, 2015 in an article entitled, “Defined three-dimensional microenvironments boost induction of pluripotency.” According to the authors they find that the physical cell confinement imposed by the 3D microenvironment boosts reprogramming through an accelerated mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition and increased epigenetic remodeling. They concluded that 3D microenvironmental signals act synergistically with reprogramming transcription factors to increase somatic plasticity.
The researchers discovered that they could reprogram the cells faster and more efficiently by simply adjusting the composition, hence the stiffness and density of the surrounding gel. As a result, the gel exerts different forces on the cells, “squeezing” them.
The scientists propose that the 3D environment is key to this process, generating mechanical signals that work together with genetic factors to make the cell easier to transform into a stem cell. The technique can be applied to a large number of cells to produce stem cells on an industrial scale.