Engineering Photoresponsive Ligand Tethers for Mechanical Regulation of Stem Cells

Junsheng Zhang, Siu Hong Dexter Wong, Xin Wu, Hai Lei, Meng Qin, Peng Shi, Wei Wang, Liming Bian, Yi Cao

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Regulating stem cell functions by precisely controlling the nanoscale presentation of bioactive ligands has a substantial impact on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine but remains a major challenge. Here it is shown that bioactive ligands can become mechanically “invisible” by increasing their tether lengths to the substrate beyond a critical length, providing a way to regulate mechanotransduction without changing the biochemical conditions. Building on this finding, light switchable tethers are rationally designed, whose lengths can be modulated reversibly by switching a light-responsive protein, pdDronpa, in between monomer and dimer states. This allows the regulation of the adhesion, spreading, and differentiation of stem cells by light on substrates of well-defined biochemical and physical properties. Spatiotemporal regulation of differential cell fates on the same substrate is further demonstrated, which may represent an important step toward constructing complex organoids or mini tissues by spatially defining the mechanical cues of the cellular microenvironment with light.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2105765
JournalAdvanced Materials
Issue number48
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2021


  • length sensing
  • mechanotransduction
  • pdDronpa
  • stem cell functionalities
  • tether length

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Engineering Photoresponsive Ligand Tethers for Mechanical Regulation of Stem Cells'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
  • Award for excellence in research

    Wong, S. H. (Recipient), 19 Mar 2023

    Prize: Honorary awardHonorary award (research)


Cite this