Extracellular matrix cues modulate Schwann cell morphology, proliferation, and protein expression.
AbstractPeripheral nerve injuries require a complex set of signals from cells, macrophages, and the extracellular matrix (ECM) to induce regeneration across injury sites and achieve functional recovery. Schwann cells (SCs), the major glial cell in the peripheral nervous system (PNS), are critical to nerve regeneration due to their inherent capacity for altering phenotype postinjury to facilitate wound healing. The ECM plays a vital role in wound healing as well as regulating cell phenotype during tissue repair. To examine the underlying mechanisms between the ECM and SCs, this work sought to determine how specific ECM cues regulate the phenotype of SCs. To address this, SCs were cultured on polydimethylsiloxane substrates of a variable Young's modulus coated with ECM proteins. Cells were analyzed for spreading area, proliferation, cell and nuclear shape, and c-Jun expression. It was found that substrates with a stiffness of 8.67 kPa coated with laminin promoted the highest expression of c-Jun, a marker signifying a "regenerative" SC. Microcontact printed, cell adhesive areas were then utilized to precisely control the geometry and spreading of SCs and by controlling spreading area and cellular elongation; expression of c-Jun was either promoted or downregulated. These results begin to address the significant interplay between ECM cues and phenotype of SCs, while offering a potential means to enhance PNS regeneration through cellular therapies.