Endothelial monolayers and transendothelial migration depend on mechanical properties of the substrate

Michael D. Onken, Olivia L. Mooren, Suranjana Mukherjee, Stefanie T. Shahan, Jinmei Li, John A. Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Endothelial cells (ECs) line the microvasculature and constitute a barrier between the vessel lumen and surrounding tissues. ECs inform circulating immune cells of the health and integrity of surrounding tissues, recruiting them in response to pathogens and tissue damage. ECs play an active role in the transmigration of immune cells across the vessel wall. We have discovered important differences in the properties of ECs on soft hydrogel substrates of varying stiffness, in comparison to glass. Primary ECs from several human sources were tested; all formed monolayers normally on soft substrates. EC monolayers formed more mature cell-cell junctions on soft substrates, relative to glass, based on increased recruitment of vinculin and F-actin. EC monolayers supported transendothelial migration (TEM) on soft substrates. Immune cells, including peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs) and natural killer cells, showed decreasing numbers of paracellular (between-cell) transmigration events with decreasing substrate stiffness, while the number of transcellular (through-cell) events increased for PBLs. Melanoma cancer cells showed increased transmigration with decreased stiffness. Our findings demonstrate that endothelial monolayers respond to the mechanical properties of their surroundings, which can regulate the integrity and function of the monolayer independently from inflammatory signals. Soft hydrogel substrates are a more appropriate and physiological model for tissue environments than hard substrates, with important implications for the experimental analysis of TEM.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-706
Number of pages12
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014


  • Cancer cells
  • Endothelial cells
  • Lymphocytes
  • NK cells
  • Soft substrates
  • Transendothelial migration


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