During embryogenesis, the spherical inner cell mass (ICM) proliferates in the confined environment of a blastocyst. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are derived from the ICM, and mimicking embryogenesis in vitro, mouse ESCs (mESCs) are often cultured in hanging droplets. This promotes the formation of a spheroid as the cells sediment and aggregate owing to increased physical confinement and cell–cell interactions. In contrast, mESCs form two-dimensional monolayers on flat substrates and it remains unclear if the difference in organization is owing to a lack of physical confinement or increased cell–substrate versus cell–cell interactions. Employing microfabricated substrates, we demonstrate that a single geometric degree of physical confinement on a surface can also initiate spherogenesis. Experiment and computation reveal that a balance between cell–cell and cell–substrate interactions finely controls the morphology and organization of mESC aggregates. Physical confinement is thus an important regulatory cue in the three-dimensional organization and morphogenesis of developing cells.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3519030.
- Received August 3, 2016.
- Accepted October 5, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.