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Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 797410, 12 pages
Review Article

Controlling Self-Renewal and Differentiation of Stem Cells via Mechanical Cues

LaBS, Department of Structural Engineering, Politecnico di Milano, 20133 Milano, Italy

Received 15 June 2012; Revised 20 July 2012; Accepted 23 July 2012

Academic Editor: Douglas W. Hamilton

Copyright © 2012 Michele M. Nava et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The control of stem cell response in vitro, including self-renewal and lineage commitment, has been proved to be directed by mechanical cues, even in the absence of biochemical stimuli. Through integrin-mediated focal adhesions, cells are able to anchor onto the underlying substrate, sense the surrounding microenvironment, and react to its properties. Substrate-cell and cell-cell interactions activate specific mechanotransduction pathways that regulate stem cell fate. Mechanical factors, including substrate stiffness, surface nanotopography, microgeometry, and extracellular forces can all have significant influence on regulating stem cell activities. In this paper, we review all the most recent literature on the effect of purely mechanical cues on stem cell response, and we introduce the concept of “force isotropy” relevant to cytoskeletal forces and relevant to extracellular loads acting on cells, to provide an interpretation of how the effects of insoluble biophysical signals can be used to direct stem cells fate in vitro.