New advances in probing cell–extracellular matrix interactions
The extracellular matrix (ECM) provides structural and biochemical support to cells within tissues. An emerging body of evidence has established that the ECM plays a key role in cell mechanotransduction – the study of coupling between mechanical inputs and cellular phenotype – through either mediating transmission of forces to the cells, or presenting mechanical cues that guide cellular behaviors. Recent progress in cell mechanotransduction research has been facilitated by advances of experimental tools, particularly microtechnologies, engineered biomaterials, and imaging and analytical methods. Microtechnologies have enabled the design and fabrication of controlled physical microenvironments for the study and measurement of cell–ECM interactions. Advances in engineered biomaterials have allowed researchers to develop synthetic ECMs that mimic tissue microenvironments and investigate the impact of altered physicochemical properties on various cellular processes. Finally, advanced imaging and spectroscopy techniques have facilitated the visualization of the complex interaction between cells and ECM in vitro and in living tissues. This review will highlight the application of recent innovations in these areas to probing cell–ECM interactions. We believe cross-disciplinary approaches, combining aspects of the different technologies reviewed here, will inspire innovative ideas to further elucidate the secrets of ECM-mediated cell control.