Cellular processes are regulated by various mechanical and physical factors in their local microenvironment such as geometric confinements, cell-substrate interactions, and cell-cell contact. Systematic elucidation of these regulatory mechanisms is crucial for fundamental understanding of cell biology and for rational design of biomedical devices and regenerative medicine. Here, we report a generally applicable plasma lithography technique, which performs selective surface functionalization on large substrate areas, for achieving long-term, stable confinements with length scales from 100 nm to 1 cm toward the investigation of cell-microenvironment interactions. In particular, we applied plasma lithography for cellular confinement of neuroblastomas, myoblasts, endothelial cells, and mammary gland epithelial cells, and examined the motion of mouse embryonic fibroblasts in directionality-confined environments for studying the effect of confinements on migratory behavior. In conjunction with live cell imaging, the distance traveled, velocity, and angular motion of individual cells and collective cell migration behaviors were measured in confined environments with dimensions comparable to a cell. A critical length scale that a cell could conceivably occupy and migrate to was also identified by investigating the behaviors of cells using confined environments with subcellular length scales.
Junkin, M., P. K. Wong