Mimicking the topography of the epidermal–dermal interface with elastomer substrates
In human skin the interface between the epidermis and dermis is not flat, but undulates. The dimensions of the undulations change as a function of age and disease. Epidermal stem cell clusters lie in specific locations relative to the undulations; however, whether their location affects their properties is unknown. To explore this, we developed a two-step protocol to create patterned substrates that mimic the topographical features of the human epidermal–dermal interface. Substrates with negative patterns were first fabricated by exposing a photocurable formulation to light, controlling the topographical features (such as diameter, height and center-to-center distance) by the photomask pattern dimensions and UV crosslinking time. The negative pattern was then translated to PDMS elastomer to fabricate substrates with 8 unique surface topographies on which primary human keratinocytes were cultured. We found that cells were patterned according to topography, and that separate cues determined the locations of stem cells, differentiated cells and proliferating cells. The biomimetic platform we have developed will be useful for probing the effect of topography on stem cell behaviour.