Heading in the right direction: Understanding cellular orientation responses to complex biophysical environments

Ch. Tamiello, Gitta Buskermolen, F.P.T. Baaijens, J.L.V. Broers, C.V.C. Bouten

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The aim of cardiovascular regeneration is to mimic the biological and mechanical functioning of tissues. For this it is crucial to recapitulate the in vivo cellular organization, which is the result of controlled cellular orientation. Cellular orientation response stems from the interaction between the cell and its complex biophysical environment. Environmental biophysical cues are continuously detected and transduced to the nucleus through entwined mechanotransduction pathways. Next to the biochemical cascades invoked by the mechanical stimuli, the structural mechanotransduction pathway made of focal adhesions and the actin cytoskeleton can quickly transduce the biophysical signals directly to the nucleus. Observations linking cellular orientation response to biophysical cues have pointed out that the anisotropy and cyclic straining of the substrate influence cellular orientation. Yet, little is known about the mechanisms governing cellular orientation responses in case of cues applied separately and in combination. This review provides the state-of-the-art knowledge on the structural mechanotransduction pathway of adhesive cells, followed by an overview of the current understanding of cellular orientation responses to substrate anisotropy and uniaxial cyclic strain. Finally, we argue that comprehensive understanding of cellular orientation in complex biophysical environments requires systematic approaches based on the dissection of (sub)cellular responses to the individual cues composing the biophysical niche.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-37
Number of pages26
JournalCellular and Molecular Bioengineering
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • Actin cytoskeleton
  • Contact guidance
  • Focal adhesion
  • Mechanotransduction
  • Strain avoidance
  • Structural pathway


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