Nanolithographic control of the spatial organization of cellular adhesion receptors at the single-molecule level

Mark Schvartzman, Matteo Palma, Julia Sable, Justin Abramson, Xian Hu, Michael P. Sheetz, Shalom J. Wind

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

158 Scopus citations


The ability to control the placement of individual molecules promises to enable a wide range of applications and is a key challenge in nanoscience and nanotechnology. Many biological interactions, in particular, are sensitive to the precise geometric arrangement of proteins. We have developed a technique which combines molecular-scale nanolithography with site-selective biochemistry to create biomimetic arrays of individual protein binding sites. The binding sites can be arranged in heterogeneous patterns of virtually any possible geometry with a nearly unlimited number of degrees of freedom. We have used these arrays to explore how the geometric organization of the extracellular matrix (ECM) binding ligand RGD (Arg-Gly-Asp) affects cell adhesion and spreading. Systematic variation of spacing, density, and cluster size of individual integrin binding sites was used to elicit different cell behavior. Cell spreading assays on arrays of different geometric arrangements revealed a dramatic increase in spreading efficiency when at least four liganded sites were spaced within 60 nm or less, with no dependence on global density. This points to the existence of a minimal matrix adhesion unit for fibronectin defined in space and stoichiometry. Developing an understanding of the ECM geometries that activate specific cellular functional complexes is a critical step toward controlling cell behavior. Potential practical applications range from new therapeutic treatments to the rational design of tissue scaffolds that can optimize healing without scarring. More broadly, spatial control at the single-molecule level can elucidate factors controlling individual molecular interactions and can enable synthesis of new systems based on molecular-scale architectures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1306-1312
Number of pages7
JournalNano Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 9 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Nanofabrication
  • cell adhesion
  • integrin clustering
  • mechanobiology
  • nanobiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • General Chemistry
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanical Engineering


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