The influence of substrate stiffness gradients on primary human dermal fibroblasts

Isabel Hopp, Andrew Michelmore, Louise E. Smith, David E. Robinson, Akash Bachhuka, Agnieszka Mierczynska, Krasimir Vasilev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Citations (Scopus)


Materials mechanical properties are known to be an important regulator of cellular processes such as proliferation, differentiation and migration, and have seen increasing attention in recent years. At present, there are only few approaches where the mechanical properties of thin films can be controllably varied across an entire surface. In this work, we present a technique for controlled generation of gradients of surface elastic moduli involving a weak polyelectrolyte multilayer (PEM) system of approximately 100nm thickness and time dependent immersion in a solution of 1-ethyl-3-(3-dimethylaminopropyl) carbodiimide (EDC) as a crosslinking agent. Uniform surface chemistry across the gradient and wettability was provided by the addition of a 10nm thick plasma polymer layer deposited from vapour of either allylamine or acrylic acid. We used the resultant stiffness gradients (0.5-110MPa in hydrated state) to investigate the adhesion, morphology and proliferation on human dermal fibroblasts (HDFs). We show that substrate mechanical properties strongly influence HDF cell fate. We also found that in the experimental range of surface properties used in this study, the surface stiffness was a stronger driving force to cells fate compared to chemistry and wettability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5070-5077
Number of pages8
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Cell adhesion and proliferation
  • Fibroblasts
  • Layer-by-layer
  • Surface stiffness
  • Young modulus


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