ACS Omega. 2022 Jul 6;7(28):24384-24395. doi: 10.1021/acsomega.2c01817. eCollection 2022 Jul 19.
Polymerized polyacrylamide (PAA) substrates are linearly elastic hydrogels that are widely used in mechanosensing studies due to their biocompatibility, wide range of functionalization capability, and tunable mechanical properties. However, such cellular response on purely elastic substrates, which do not mimic the viscoelastic living tissues, may not be physiologically relevant. Because the cellular response on 2D viscoelastic PAA substrates remains largely unknown, we used stereolithography (SLA)-based additive manufacturing technique to create viscoelastic PAA substrates with tunable mechanical properties that allow us to identify physiologically relevant cellular behaviors. Three PAA substrates of different complex moduli were fabricated by SLA. By embedding fluorescent markers during the additive manufacturing of the substrates, we show a homogeneous and uniform composition throughout, which conventional manufacturing techniques cannot produce. Rheological investigation of the additively manufactured PAA substrates shows a viscoelastic behavior with a 5-10% loss moduli compared to their elastic moduli, mimicking the living tissues. To understand the cell mechanosensing on the dissipative PAA substrates, single live cells were seeded on PAA substrates to establish the basic relationships between cell traction, cytoskeletal prestress, and cell spreading. With the increasing substrate moduli, we observed a concomitant increase in cellular traction and prestress, but not cell spreading, suggesting that cell spreading can be decoupled from traction and intracellular prestress in physiologically relevant environments. Together, additively manufactured PAA substrates fill the void of lacking real tissue like viscoelastic materials that can be used in a variety of mechanosensing studies with superior reproducibility.