Date Approved


Embargo Period


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Biomedical Engineering


Biomedical Engineering


Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering


Sebastián L. Vega, Ph.D.

Committee Member 1

Peter A. Galie, Ph.D.

Committee Member 2

James M. Holaska, Ph.D.


Adaptation, HAVDI, Mechanosensing, Stem cells, YAP


Mesenchymal stem cells; Colloids; Tissue engineering


Biomedical Engineering and Bioengineering


The goal of this research is to identify the role of engineered cell-cell signals on how cells sense material properties. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are adult cells whose behavior is regulated by matrix mechanosensing, which is characterized by stiffness-dependent changes in cell shape and the nuclear localization of mechano-transducer proteins including YAP (Yes-associated Protein). MSC area and nuclear YAP translocation increase with increasing stiffness, and although low levels of N-cadherin-based cell-cell signaling reduce this effect, two fundamental questions remain: (1) do engineered cell-cell signals at higher concentrations further reduce matrix mechanosensing, and (2) does N-cadherin signaling affect MSC adaptation to dynamic materials. To answer these questions, a stiffening hydrogel system was developed to independently control stiffness and HAVDI, a peptide that mimics cell-cell signaling. High concentrations of HAVDI (2 mM) reduce matrix mechanosensing on static hydrogels as seen by a decrease in area and nuclear YAP. The area of MSCs on soft HAVDI hydrogels that are stiffened does not change, but surprisingly nuclear YAP increases post-stiffening. These studies demonstrate that competing stiffness and cell-cell signals regulate matrix mechanosensing, and these insights are critical towards developing in vitro platforms to study ailments attributed to tissue stiffening including cancer, fibrosis, and aging.