Cellular responses to beating hydrogels to investigate mechanotransduction
Cells feel the forces exerted on them by the surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM) environment and respond to them. While many cell fate processes are dictated by these forces, which are highly synchronized in space and time, abnormal force transduction is implicated in the progression of many diseases (muscular dystrophy, cancer). However, material platforms that enable transient, cyclic forces in vitro to recreate an in vivo-like scenario remain a challenge. Here, we report a hydrogel system that rapidly beats (actuates) with spatio-temporal control using a near infra-red light trigger. Small, user-defined mechanical forces (~nN) are exerted on cells growing on the hydrogel surface at frequencies up to 10 Hz, revealing insights into the effect of actuation on cell migration and the kinetics of reversible nuclear translocation of the mechanosensor protein myocardin related transcription factor A, depending on the actuation amplitude, duration and frequency.