Cell and Matrix Biomechanics Lab

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Christopher Lemmon, Ph.D.

Director: Christopher Lemmon, Ph.D.

Tissues in the body are composed of both cells and a surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM). The ECM is a heterogeneous mix of glycoproteins and proteoglycans that form fibers, sheets and other structures to give tissues their mechanical integrity and structure. The ECM binds various cytokines and contains signals that can be propagated to attached cells. These signals regulate cell events including proliferation, migration and survival. The ECM thus serves both structural and signaling roles that regulate the form and function of attached cells.

Assembly of ECM is a complex, cell-derived process that involves cell-generated forces, assembly of cell-ECM attachment sites and cellular sensing of the surrounding mechanical properties. Proper assembly of ECM is crucial to tissue formation and function, while excess ECM assembly results in scarring and increased tissue rigidity.  

Dysregulation of ECM assembly is associated with diabetes, cancer, liver disease, improper wound closure, birth defects and vascular disease, among others. Understanding the process of ECM assembly is also critical to advancing tissue engineering.

Our lab is interested in how cells assemble ECM to achieve the desired mechanical properties and signaling events necessary to promote cell attachment, organization and function in tissues. We are also interested in how this process is dysregulated in various disease states, including cancer, diabetes and birth defects. We investigate these questions using microfabricated structures that serve as a scaffold for ECM assembly and allow for measurement of cell-derived forces, proliferation and migration in vitro.

Research interests

Current projects

  • Effects of substrate rigidity on fibronectin assembly in wound healing
  • ECM mechanics and signaling in the tumor microenvironment
  • Measuring traction forces in cancer cells
  • Fibronectin signaling in epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT)