Regulation of dendrite arborization by substrate stiffness is mediated by glutamate receptors

Michelle L. Previtera, Christopher G. Langhammer, Noshir A. Langrana, Bonnie L. Firestein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Brain injury or disease can initiate changes in local or global stiffness of brain tissue. While stiffness of the extracellular environment is known to affect the morphology and function of many cell types, little is known about how the dendrites of neurons respond to changes in brain stiffness. To assess how extracellular stiffness affects dendrite morphology, we took biomaterial and biomedical engineering approaches. We cultured mixed and pure hippocampal neurons on hydrogels composed of polyacrylamide (PA) of varying stiffnesses to mimic the effects of extracellular matrix stiffness on dendrite morphology. The majority of investigations of cortical and spinal cord neurons on soft hydrogels examined branching at early time points (days in vitro (DIV) 2-7), an important distinction from our study, where we include later time points that encompass the peak of branching (DIV 10-12). At DIV 12, dendrite branching was altered by stiffness for both pure and mixed neuronal cultures. Furthermore, we treated hippocampal cultures with glutamate receptor antagonists and with astrocyte-conditioned media. Blocking AMPA and NMDA receptors affected the changes in dendrite branching seen at varying rigidities. Moreover, extracellular factors secreted by astrocytes also change dendrite branching seen at varying rigidities. Thus, astrocytes and ionotropic glutamate receptors contribute to mechanosensing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3733-3743
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of Biomedical Engineering
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering


  • AMPA
  • Astrocytes
  • Dendrite branching
  • Glutamate receptors
  • Hydrogels
  • NMDA
  • Polyacrylamide
  • Rigidity


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