To maximize the therapeutic efficacy of cardiac muscle constructs produced by stem cells and tissue engineering protocols, suitable scaffolds should be designed to recapitulate all the characteristics of native muscle and mimic the microenvironment encountered by cells in vivo. Moreover, so not to interfere with cardiac contractility, the scaffold should be deformable enough to withstand muscle contraction. Recently, it was suggested that the mechanical properties of scaffolds can interfere with stem/progenitor cell functions, and thus careful consideration is required when choosing polymers for targeted applications. In this study, cross-linked poly-caprolactone membranes having similar chemical composition and controlled stiffness in a supra-physiological range were challenged with two sources of myoblasts to evaluate the suitability of substrates with different stiffness for cell adhesion, proliferation and differentiation. Furthermore, muscle-specific and non-related feeder layers were prepared on stiff surfaces to reveal the contribution of biological and mechanical cues to skeletal muscle progenitor differentiation. We demonstrated that substrate stiffness does affect myogenic differentiation, meaning that softer substrates can promote differentiation and that a muscle-specific feeder layer can improve the degree of maturation in skeletal muscle stem cells.
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