The extracellular matrix (ECM) serves as an important biophysical scaffold for regulating cell growth and function. Traditionally, purified ECM proteins (collagen, laminin) are commonly used for 2D or monolayer cell culture applications. These insoluble structural proteins and local soluble factors provide the essential environmental controls for host cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions.
More recently, complex biomatrix hydrogels — e.g., Matrigel® and Geltrex™ — have become useful for developing 3D or multicellular culture models. Unfortunately, these animal-derived ECM culture systems do not fully mimic the tissue biology found in humans.
It is known that the compositional milieu of ECM hydrogels finely regulates cell behavior and functions. Cell-matrix interactions, in concert with specific growth factors, dramatically influence cell migration, proliferation, and differentiation processes. For example, reconstituted Matrigel® is enriched in laminin but lacks collagen-I making it unable to fully recapitulate the human stromal environment and biology. In addition, certain growth factors in Matrigel can self-induce a cellular phenotype (angiogenesis) and alter the gene expression profile. Therefore, a well-defined ECM system is needed to develop physiologically relevant cell- and tissue-culture models for advancing basic and translation research.
Authored by Raj Singh, Ph.D.