The intricacy of the different parameters involved in cell adhesion to biomaterials and fate decision (e.g. proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis) makes the decoupling of the respective effects of surface properties, extra-cellular matrix protein adsorption and ultimately cell behaviour difficult. This work presents a micro-patterned polymer brush platform to control the adsorption of extra-cellular matrix (ECM) proteins to well defined micron-size areas and consequently control cell adhesion, spreading and shape independently of other chemical and physical surface properties. Protein patterns can be readily generated with brushes presenting a range of hydrophilicity and surface charge density. The surface properties of the selected brushes are fully characterised using a combination of FTIR, XPS, ellipsometry, atomic force microscopy, water contact goniometry, dynamic light scattering and ζ-potential measurements. Interactions of proteins relevant to cell patterning and culture with these brushes are studied by surface plasmon resonance, dynamic light scattering, ellipsometry and immuno-fluorescence microscopy. Finally this platform is used in an assay investigating the relative contributions of matrix geometry and surface chemistry on epidermal stem cell differentiation. It is found that moderate hydrophobicity does not impact stem cell commitment, whereas strongly negative surface potential increases the incidence of differentiation. This correlates with a marked decrease in the formation of focal adhesions (but not cell spreading).
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