Magnetically Tuning Tether Mobility of Integrin Ligand Regulates Adhesion, Spreading, and Differentiation of Stem Cells

Dexter S.H. Wong, Jinming Li, Xiaohui Yan, Ben Wang, Rui Li, Li Zhang, Liming Bian

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

68 Citations (Scopus)


Cells sense and respond to the surrounding microenvironment through binding of membranous integrin to ligands such as the Arg-Gly-Asp (RGD) peptide. Previous studies show that the RGD tether properties on substrate influence cell adhesion and spreading, but few studies have reported strategies to control the tether mobility of RGD on substrate via a physical and noncontact approach. Herein, we demonstrate a novel strategy to tune the tether mobility of RGD on substrate via magnetic force. We conjugate a monolayer of RGD-bearing magnetic nanoparticles (MNPs) on a glass substrate via the flexible and coiled poly(ethylene glycol) linker of large molecular weight (PEG, average MW: 2000), and this increases the RGD tether mobility, which can be significantly reduced by applying magnetic attraction on MNPs. Our data show that high RGD tether mobility delays the early adhesion and spreading of human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs), leading to compromised osteogenic differentiation at later stage. In contrast, hMSCs cultured on substrate with restricted RGD tether mobility, achieved either via a shorter PEG linker (MW: 200) or magnetic force, show significantly better adhesion, spreading, and osteogenic differentiation. The control utilizing RGD-bearing nonmagnetic nanoparticles shows no such enhancing effect of magnetic field on cellular events, further supporting our conjecture of magnetic tuning of RGD tether mobility. We hypothesize that high tether mobility of RGD entails additional time and effort by the cells to fully develop traction force and mechanical feedback, thereby delaying the maturation of FAs and activation of subsequent mechanotransduction signaling. Our staining results of vinculin, a critical component of FAs, and Yes-associated protein (YAP), an important mechanosensitive transcriptional factor, support our hypothesis. We believe that our work not only sheds light on the impact of dynamic presentation of cell adhesive ligands on cellular behaviors, which should be taken into consideration for designing novel biomaterials, but also formulate an effective noncontact strategy that enables further investigation on the mechanobiological mechanisms underlying such cellular responses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1685-1695
Number of pages11
JournalNano Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • cell−substratum interactions
  • human mesenchymal stem cells
  • magnetic nanoparticles
  • stem cell differentiation
  • Tether mobility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanical Engineering

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