Research in cell adhesion focuses on molecular mechanisms of cell adhesion and on the impact of adhesion on critical cell functions such as migration and signaling.
Our work spans length scales ranging from atomistic simulations to cell adhesion and migration in engineered environments. At the atomic level, steered molecular dynamics simulations identify structural features that are central to the mechanical functions of these proteins. Sensitive, molecular level force-measurement techniques experimentally test predictions of the simulations, and investigate relationships between the structures of adhesion proteins, their mechanisms and strengths of binding, and their response to mechanical force. Measurements of binding kinetics between single cell pairs then test, at the cell level, relationships betwen the properties of single protein bonds to the dynamics and strength of cell adhesion.
To determine how adhesive cues control cell functions, we use microfabrication and surface chemistry to generate controlled, concentration fields of adhesive cues, in order to determine how these signals direct cell migration or alter such cell functions as differentiation or proliferation. Nanopatterned materials are used to ask whether cells sense nanoscale features as well as the size and spatial distribution of defined cues. How many molecules are required to trigger cell signaling? On what length scales do cells sense biochemical or mechanical differences?
More recent studies use live cell imaging in conjunction with patterned surface features to visualize directly how these signals trigger real-time spatiotemporal changes in cells as they encounter specific cues. This powerful combination of precision surface engineering with live cell imaging will identify crucial biological design rules that define how cells read their environment to instruct cell behavior.