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Stem Cells International
Volume 2015, Article ID 167025, 35 pages
Review Article

Physical, Spatial, and Molecular Aspects of Extracellular Matrix of In Vivo Niches and Artificial Scaffolds Relevant to Stem Cells Research

1Imtek Limited, 3 Cherepkovskaya 15, Moscow 21552, Russia
2Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology Federal State Budgetary Institution, Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, Gamalei 18, Moscow 123098, Russia
3Russian Cardiology Research and Production Center Federal State Budgetary Institution, Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, 3 Cherepkovskaya 15, Moscow 21552, Russia
4Division of Matrix Biology, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Karolinska Institute, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden

Received 2 April 2015; Revised 7 June 2015; Accepted 24 June 2015

Academic Editor: Hai-Quan Mao

Copyright © 2015 Maria Akhmanova 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.


Extracellular matrix can influence stem cell choices, such as self-renewal, quiescence, migration, proliferation, phenotype maintenance, differentiation, or apoptosis. Three aspects of extracellular matrix were extensively studied during the last decade: physical properties, spatial presentation of adhesive epitopes, and molecular complexity. Over 15 different parameters have been shown to influence stem cell choices. Physical aspects include stiffness (or elasticity), viscoelasticity, pore size, porosity, amplitude and frequency of static and dynamic deformations applied to the matrix. Spatial aspects include scaffold dimensionality (2D or 3D) and thickness; cell polarity; area, shape, and microscale topography of cell adhesion surface; epitope concentration, epitope clustering characteristics (number of epitopes per cluster, spacing between epitopes within cluster, spacing between separate clusters, cluster patterns, and level of disorder in epitope arrangement), and nanotopography. Biochemical characteristics of natural extracellular matrix molecules regard diversity and structural complexity of matrix molecules, affinity and specificity of epitope interaction with cell receptors, role of non-affinity domains, complexity of supramolecular organization, and co-signaling by growth factors or matrix epitopes. Synergy between several matrix aspects enables stem cells to retain their function in vivo and may be a key to generation of long-term, robust, and effective in vitro stem cell culture systems.