Principle Investigator: Michael Smith
The form and function of cells and tissues is regulated by various properties of their local microenvironment such as rigidity and cell shape. In vivo, these properties are defined by the extracellular matrix (ECM) and adjacent cells. During dynamic processes such as development, these properties regulate ECM turnover and remodeling in addition to cell movement, proliferation, and contractility. This newly remodeled matrix and altered tissue shape then redefines the local microenvironment, thus further enjoining the cell response in an iterative, closed loop which leads to the coordinated self assembly of higher order structures. The ECM is more than a passive mechanical element in this process since it presents an array of binding sites for cells and cell signaling molecules. Understanding how these microenvironmental properties regulate cell fate should increase the clinical efficacy of tissue engineering scaffolds that depend upon both biochemical and physical cues. Broadly speaking, my lab focuses on quantifying the relationship between environmental cues and ECM production, elucidating the mechanisms by which Fn tension and unfolding alters its cell signaling capacity, and finally engineering culture environments to control the form and function of the ECM.