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Open Access Research article

Cell adhesion to agrin presented as a nanopatterned substrate is consistent with an interaction with the extracellular matrix and not transmembrane adhesion molecules

Tobias Wolfram12345, Joachim P Spatz123 and Robert W Burgess45*

Author Affiliations

1 Dept. New Materials and Biosystems, Max-Planck-Institute for Metals Research, Germany

2 University of Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Germany

3 Dept. of Biophysical Chemistry, University of Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Germany

4 Institute for Molecular Biophysics, Bar Harbor, ME, USA

5 The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, ME, USA

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BMC Cell Biology 2008, 9:64  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-9-64

Published: 4 December 2008



Molecular spacing is important for cell adhesion in a number of ways, ranging from the ordered arrangement of matrix polymers extracellularly, to steric hindrance of adhesion/signaling complexes intracellularly. This has been demonstrated using nanopatterned RGD peptides, a canonical extracellular matrix ligand for integrin interactions. Cell adhesion was greatly reduced when the RGD-coated nanoparticles were separated by more than 60 nm, indicating a sharp spacing-dependent threshold for this form of cell adhesion.


Here we show a similar dependence of cell adhesion on the spacing of agrin, a protein that exists as both a secreted, matrix-bound form and a type-2 transmembrane form in vivo. Agrin was presented as a substrate for cell adhesion assays by anchoring recombinant protein to gold nanoparticles that were arrayed at tunable distances onto glass coverslips. Cells adhered well to nanopatterned agrin, and when presented as uniformly coated substrates, adhesion to agrin was comparable to other well-studied adhesion molecules, including N-Cadherin. Adhesion of both mouse primary cortical neurons and rat B35 neuroblastoma cells showed a spacing-dependent threshold, with a sharp drop in adhesion when the space between agrin-coated nanoparticles increased from 60 to 90 nm. In contrast, adhesion to N-Cadherin decreased gradually over the entire range of distances tested (uniform, 30, 60, 90, and 160 nm). The spacing of the agrin nanopattern also influenced cell motility, and peptide competition suggested adhesion was partially integrin dependent. Finally, differences in cell adhesion to C-terminal agrin fragments of different lengths were detected using nanopatterned substrates, and these differences were not evident using uniformly coated substrates.


These results suggest nanopatterned substrates may provide a physiological presentation of adhesive substrates, and are consistent with cells adhering to agrin through a mechanism that more closely resembles an interaction with the extracellular matrix than a transmembrane adhesion molecule.