Recently, efforts are increasingly made to engineer NMJ in vitro for both fundamental and applied bioscience studies. Certain success was made to modulate neural differentiation of stem cells using soluble factors and cell adhesion matrix properties. However, these studies were often plagued by the dependency of neural differentiation level on the density of cells plated on a substrate, which implicates an important role of cadherin-modulated cell-cell adhesion in regulating neural differentiation. Therefore, the goal for this research is to develop a synthetic matrix immobilized with N-cadherin in a bottom-up manner and to use it to modulate neural differentiation of stem cells in a top-down manner. The resulting matrix would be combined with engineered muscle tissue to create functional NMJ in vitro. To create this system, we have attached truncated cadherins to the hydrogel surface using avidin and biotin, and showed that we were able to plate bone marrow stromal cells on the surface. We will follow this by inducing neural differentiation of the stem cells and check for functionality and cellular traction forces.
Ellen is a PhD student in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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