Skeletal muscle progenitors are sensitive to collagen architectural features of fibril size and cross linking

Lin Ya Hu, Cassidy J. Mileti, Taryn Loomis, Sarah E. Brashear, Sarah Ahmad, Rosemary R. Chellakudam, Ross P. Wohlgemuth, Marissa A. Gionet-Gonzales, J. Kent Leach, Lucas Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Muscle stem cells (MuSCs) are essential for the robust regenerative capacity of skeletal muscle. However, in fibrotic environments marked by abundant collagen and altered collagen organization, the regenerative capability of MuSCs is diminished. MuSCs are sensitive to their extracellular matrix environment but their response to collagen architecture is largely unknown. The present study aimed to systematically test the effect of underlying collagen structures on MuSC functions. Collagen hydrogels were engineered with varied architectures: collagen concentration, cross linking, fibril size, and fibril alignment, and the changes were validated with second harmonic generation imaging and rheology. Proliferation and differentiation responses of primary mouse MuSCs and immortal myoblasts (C2C12s) were assessed using EdU assays and immunolabeling skeletal muscle myosin expression, respectively. Changing collagen concentration and the corresponding hydrogel stiffness did not have a significant influence on MuSC proliferation or differentiation. However, MuSC differentiation on atelocollagen gels, which do not form mature pyridinoline cross links, was increased compared with the cross-linked control. In addition, MuSCs and C2C12 myoblasts showed greater differentiation on gels with smaller collagen fibrils. Proliferation rates of C2C12 myoblasts were also higher on gels with smaller collagen fibrils, whereas MuSCs did not show a significant difference. Surprisingly, collagen alignment did not have significant effects on muscle progenitor function. This study demonstrates that MuSCs are capable of sensing their underlying extracellular matrix (ECM) structures and enhancing differentiation on substrates with less collagen cross linking or smaller collagen fibrils. Thus, in fibrotic muscle, targeting cross linking and fibril size rather than collagen expression may more effectively support MuSC-based regeneration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)C330-C342
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Collagen architecture
  • Extracellular matrix
  • Muscle differentiation
  • Satellite cell
  • Stem cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cell Biology


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