Cell adhesion and detachment to and from the extracellular matrix (ECM) are critical regulators of cell function and fate due to the exchange of mechanical signals between the cell and its microenvironment. To study this cell mechanobiology, researchers have developed several innovative methods to investigate cell adhesion in vitro; however, most of these culture platforms are unnaturally stiff or static. To better capture the soft, dynamic nature of the ECM, we present a PEG-based hydrogel in which the context and geometry of the extracellular space can be precisely controlled in situvia two-photon induced erosion. Here, we characterize the two-photon erosion process, demonstrate its efficacy in the presence of cells, and subsequently exploit it to induce subcellular detachment from soft hydrogels. A working space was established for a range of laser powers required to induce complete erosion of the gel, and these data are plotted with model predictions. From this working space, two-photon irradiation parameters were selected for complete erosion in the presence of cells. Micron-scale features were eroded on and within a gel to demonstrate the resolution of patterning with these irradiation conditions. Lastly, two-photon irradiation was used to erode the material at the cell–gel interface to remove cell adhesion sites selectively, and cell retraction was monitored to quantify the mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) response to subcellular detachment from soft materials.
This article is Open Access
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