The ability of corneal epithelial cells to recognize high aspect ratio nanostructures

Elizabeth J. Tocce, Valery K. Smirnov, Dmitry S. Kibalov, Sara J. Liliensiek, Christopher J Murphy, Paul F. Nealey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


The basement membrane of the human corneal epithelium comprises topographic features including fibers, pores, and elevations with feature dimensions on the order of 20-400 nm. Understanding the impact of sub-micron and nanotopography on corneal cell behavior will contribute to our understanding of biomechanical cues and will assist in the design of improved synthetic corneal implants. We utilized well defined ridge and groove wave-like nanostructures (wave ordered structures, WOS) of 60-140 pitches (30-70 nm ridge widths) and 200 nm depths to assess human corneal epithelial cell (HCEC) contact guidance and to establish HCEC contact acuity defined as the lower limit in feature dimensions at which cells respond to biomimetic topographic cues. Results using the WOS substrates demonstrate that HCEC contact acuity is in the range of 60 nm pitch for cells in a serum-free basal medium (EpiLife®) and in the range of 90 nm pitch for cells in epithelial medium. To further investigate the influence of HCEC contact acuity in the presence of larger topographic cues, we fabricated 70 nm pitch WOS-overlaid parallel to the top of the ridges of 800-4000 nm pitch. HCEC cultured in epithelial medium demonstrate a significant increase in the percent of cells aligning to 4000 nm pitch topography with WOS-overlay compared to controls (both flat and 70 nm WOS alone) and 4000 nm pitch topography alone. These results highlight the significance of the lower range of basement membrane scale topographic cues on cell response and allow for improved prosthetic design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4064-4072
Number of pages9
Issue number14
StatePublished - May 2010


  • Contact guidance
  • Cornea
  • Epithelial cell
  • Nanotopography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomaterials
  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Biophysics


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