This study characterized the attachment of chondrocytes to RGD-functionalized alginate by examining the effect of substrate stiffness on cell attachment and morphology. Bovine chondrocytes were added to wells coated with 2% alginate or RGD-alginate. The alginate was crosslinked with divalent cations ranging from 1.25 to 62.5mmol/g alginate. Attachment to RGD-alginate was 10-20 times higher than attachment to unmodified alginate and was significantly inhibited by antibodies to integrin subunits α3and β1, cytochalasin-D, and soluble RGD peptide. The equilibrium level and rate of attachment increased with crosslink density and substrate stiffness. Substrate stiffness also regulated chondrocyte morphology, which changed from a rounded shape with nebulous actin on weaker substrates to a predominantly flat morphology with actin stress fibers on stiffer substrates. The dependence of attachment on integrins and substrate stiffness suggests that chondrocyte integrins may play a role in sensing the mechanical properties of the matrices to which they are attached. © 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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