• cornea;
  • epithelial cells;
  • nucleus;
  • contact guidance;
  • biophysical cues;
  • alignment;
  • topography;
  • mechanotransduction


The basement membrane of the corneal epithelium presents biophysical cues in the form of topography and compliance that can modulate cytoskeletal dynamics, which, in turn, can result in altering cellular and nuclear morphology and alignment. In this study, the effect of topographic patterns of alternating ridges and grooves on nuclear and cellular shape and alignment was determined. Primary corneal epithelial cells were cultured on either planar or topographically patterned (400–4000 nm pitch) substrates. Alignment of individual cell body was correlated with respective nucleus for the analysis of orientation and elongation. A biphasic response in alignment was observed. Cell bodies preferentially aligned perpendicular to the 800 nm pitch; and with increasing pitch, cells increasingly aligned parallel to the substratum. Nuclear orientation largely followed this trend with the exception of those on 400 nm. On this biomimetic size scale, some nuclei oriented perpendicular to the topography while their cytoskeleton elements aligned parallel. Both nuclei and cell bodies were elongated on topography compared to those on flat surfaces. Our data demonstrate that nuclear orientation and shape are differentially altered by topographic features that are not mandated by alignment of the cell body. This novel finding suggests that nuanced differences in alignment of the nucleus versus the cell body exist and that these differences could have consequences on gene and protein regulation that ultimately regulate cell behaviors. A full understanding of these mechanisms could disclose novel pathways that would better inform evolving strategies in cell, stem cell, and tissue engineering as well as the design and fabrication of improved prosthetic devices. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biomed Mater Res Part A, 2013.