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Mechanical Properties of Soft Biological Membranes for Organ-on-a-Chip Assessed by Bulge Test and AFM

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-03-02, 22:13 authored by Pauline Zamprogno, Giuditta Thoma, Veronika Cencen, Dario Ferrari, Barbara Putz, Johann Michler, Georg E. Fantner, Olivier T. Guenat
Advanced in vitro models called “organ-on-a-chip” can mimic the specific cellular environment found in various tissues. Many of these models include a thin, sometimes flexible, membrane aimed at mimicking the extracellular matrix (ECM) scaffold of in vivo barriers. These membranes are often made of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a silicone rubber that poorly mimics the chemical and physical properties of the basal membrane. However, the ECM and its mechanical properties play a key role in the homeostasis of a tissue. Here, we report about biological membranes with a composition and mechanical properties similar to those found in vivo. Two types of collagen-elastin (CE) membranes were produced: vitrified and nonvitrified (called “hydrogel membrane”). Their mechanical properties were characterized using the bulge test method. The results were compared using atomic force microscopy (AFM), a standard technique used to evaluate the Young’s modulus of soft materials at the nanoscale. Our results show that CE membranes with stiffnesses ranging from several hundred of kPa down to 1 kPa can be produced by tuning the CE ratio, the production mode (vitrified or not), and/or certain parameters such as temperature. The Young’s modulus can easily be determined using the bulge test. This method is a robust and reproducible to determine membrane stiffness, even for soft membranes, which are more difficult to assess by AFM. Assessment of the impact of substrate stiffness on the spread of human fibroblasts on these surfaces showed that cell spread is lower on softer surfaces than on stiffer surfaces.