There is growing evidence that cellular functions are regulated by the viscoelastic nature of surrounding matrices. This study aimed to investigate the impact of interfacial viscoelasticity on adhesion and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) behaviors of epithelial cells. The interfacial viscoelasticity was manipulated using spin-coated thin films composed of copolymers of ϵ-caprolactone and d,l-lactide photo-cross-linked with benzophenone, whose mechanical properties were characterized using atomic force microscopy and a rheometer. The critical range for the morphological transition of epithelial Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells was of the order of 102 ms relaxation time, which was 1-2 orders of magnitude smaller than the relaxation times reported (10-102 s). An analysis of strain rate-dependent viscoelastic properties revealed that the difference was caused by the different strain rate/frequency used for the mechanical characterization of the interface and bulk. Furthermore, decoupling of the interfacial viscous and elastic terms demonstrated that E/N-cadherin expression levels were regulated differently by interfacial relaxation and elasticity. These results confirm the significance of precise manipulation and characterization of interfacial viscoelasticity in mechanobiology studies on EMT progression.
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