Understanding cellular interactions with culture substrate features is important to advance cell biology and regenerative medicine. When surface topographical features are considerably larger in vertical dimension and are spaced at least one cell dimension apart, the features act as 3D physical barriers that can guide cell adhesion, thereby altering cell behavior. In the present study, we investigated competitive interactions of cells with neighboring cells and matrix using a novel nanoneedle gradient array. A gradient array of nanoholes was patterned at the surface of fused silica by single-pulse femtosecond laser machining. A negative replica of the pattern was extracted by nanoimprinting with a thin film of polymer. Silica was deposited on top of the polymer replica to form silica nanoneedles. NIH 3T3 fibroblasts were cultured on silica nanoneedles and their behavior was studied and compared with those cultured on a flat silica surface. The presence of silica nanoneedles was found to enhance the adhesion of fibroblasts while maintaining cell viability. The anisotropy in the arrangement of silica nanoneedles was found to affect the morphology and spreading of fibroblasts. Additionally, variations in nanoneedle spacing regulated cell-matrix and cell-cell interactions, effectively preventing cell aggregation in areas of tightly-packed nanoneedles. This proof-of-concept study provides a reproducible means for controlling competitive cell adhesion events and offers a novel system whose properties can be manipulated to intimately control cell behavior.
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