Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

A common approach to tailoring synthetic hydrogels for regenerative medicine applications involves incorporating RGD cell adhesion peptides, yet assessing the cellular response to engineered microenvironments at the nanoscale remains challenging. To date, no study has demonstrated how RGD concentration in hydrogels affects the presentation of individual cell surface receptors. Here we studied the interaction between human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) and RGD-functionalized poly(ethylene glycol) hydrogels, by correlating macro- and nanoscale single-cell interfacial quantification techniques. We quantified RGD unbinding forces on a synthetic hydrogel using single cell atomic force spectroscopy, revealing that short-term binding of hMSCs was sensitive to RGD concentration. We also performed direct stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (dSTORM) to quantify the molecular interactions between integrin α5β1 and a biomaterial, unexpectedly revealing that increased integrin clustering at the hydrogel-cell interface correlated with fewer available RGD binding sites. Our complementary, quantitative approach uncovered mechanistic insights into specific stem cell-hydrogel interactions, where dSTORM provides nanoscale sensitivity to RGD-dependent differences in cell surface localization of integrin α5β1. Our findings reveal that it is possible to precisely determine how peptide-functionalized hydrogels interact with cells at the molecular scale, thus providing a basis to fine-tune the spatial presentation of bioactive ligands.

Original publication




Journal article


ACS Nano

Publication Date





17321 - 17332


AFM, PEG hydrogel, RGD, dSTORM, integrin α5β1, single cell force spectroscopy