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    Karen Lynn Havenstrite.
    The ultimate goal of regenerative medicine is to repair tissues damaged by aging, injury or disease. Tissue-specific adult stem cells constitute a reservoir of cells in postnatal tissue that have the remarkable capacity to proliferate and repair tissue damage because they can both self-renew, or produce more stem cells, and differentiate into mature cells. Adult stem cells have been identified in a variety of tissues, including blood, brain, skin, intestine, and muscle and methods exist to prospectively isolate these populations by flow cytometry. Upon transplantation, they possess an extraordinary ability to contribute extensively to tissue regeneration. Notably, adult stem cells are a relatively rare cell population and methods to propagate and expand these cell types in culture without loss of regenerative capacity are lacking, a hurdle to their clinical use. In vivo, stem cells reside in an instructive microenvironment, or niche, which serves to regulate fate decisions, including quiescence, self-renewal, and differentiation. Given the complexity of their native environment, it is not surprising that upon removal from their niche they rapidly lose regenerative capacity. While the role of biochemical signals in regulating stem cell fate and function has been widely explored, the effects of biophysical signals have not been discerned. To elucidate the role of matrix elasticity in regulating adult stem cell fate, we first design a biomimetic hydrogel culture platform to mimic tissue elasticity and physiologic presentation of biochemical cues. Adapting a previously described conjugate addition reaction, poly(ethylene glycol) hydrogel substrates are fabricated which have a Young's modulus that is tunable in the physiologic range (1-50kPa). Gels are designed to have limited post-polymerization swelling to enable constant density of tethered biological ligands. Utilizing this tunable hydrogel culture platform, we provide the first definitive evidence that matrix elasticity regulates adult stem cell self-renewal in culture. Using a combination of culture studies and in vivo functional assays in mice, we demonstrate that substrate rigidity profoundly impacts the self-renewal potential of tissue-specific adult stem cells isolated from skeletal muscle and bone marrow. In contrast with rigid tissue culture plastic in which regenerative potential is lost, we demonstrate that culture on a pliant hydrogel substrate maintains the 'stemness' of muscle stem cells (MuSCs) and hematopoetic stem cells (HSCs). Further, we describe a novel in vivo screen and identify an extracellular matrix molecule which, in conjunction with soft hydrogel, has a previously unrecognized role in regulating HSC fate. These studies demonstrate that recapitulating tissue rigidity, a key component of the in vivo microenvironment, enables propagation of functional adult stem cells in culture for the first time. We expect these experimental approaches will be broadly applicable to other adult stem cell types and ultimately will profoundly impact regenerative medicine by enabling generation of functional stem cell populations for use in clinical cell-based therapies.
    Digital Access   2011