Thermal scanning probe lithography (t-SPL) is a nanofabrication technique in which an immobilized thermolabile resist, such as polyphthalaldehyde (PPA), is locally vaporized by a heated atomic force microscope tip. Compared with other nanofabrication techniques, such as soft lithography and nanoimprinting lithography, t-SPL is more efficient and convenient as it does not involve time-consuming mask productions or complicated etching procedures, making it a promising candidate technique for the fast prototyping of nanoscale topographies for biological studies. Here, we established the direct use of PPA-coated surfaces as a cell culture substrate. We showed that PPA is biocompatible and that the deposition of allylamine by plasma polymerization on a silicon wafer before PPA coating can stabilize the immobilization of PPA in aqueous solutions. When seeded on PPA-coated surfaces, human mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) adhered, spread, and proliferated in a manner indistinguishable from cells cultured on glass surfaces. This allowed us to subsequently use t-SPL to generate nanotopographies for cell culture experiments. As a proof of concept, we analyzed the surface topography of bovine tendon sections, previously shown to induce morphogenesis and differentiation of MSC, by means of atomic force microscopy, and then "wrote" topographical data on PPA by means of t-SPL. The resulting substrate, matching the native tissue topography on the nanoscale, was directly used for MSC culture. The t-SPL substrate induced similar changes in cell morphology and focal adhesion formation in the MSC compared to native tendon sections, suggesting that t-SPL can rapidly generate cell culture substrates with complex and spatially accurate topographical signals. This technique may greatly accelerate the prototyping of models for the study of cell-matrix interactions.
- cell guidance
- cell-matrix interactions
- mesenchymal stem cells
- thermal scanning probe lithography
- tissue microenvironment