micropatterned cells

HeLa cells plated on line micropatterns of 100 to 10 µm width, 4DCell Lab (2018).


These experiments illustrate the importance and concern of the 2D surface while doing cell culture on a dish. Cells sense and react to their environment, geometrically and chemically; they change their internal organization and adapt their external shape.



Nowadays micro-engineering techniques help to mimic the cell microenvironment by manipulating the cell culture conditions. Micropatterns can provide a dynamic, complex and micrometer-scale habitat as well as a good observation of the cell migration induced by different protein substrate shapes.


This is a standard protocol for the micropatterns fabrication and can be adapted depending on the protein substrate and cell type.

Material needed

micropatterned slides
  • Protein coating: fibronectin 50 µg/mL
  • Type of pattern: Triangles, squares and dots


Protein coating

  • On a parafilm, pipette 100 µL of fibronectin
  • Gently place the micropatterned side of the slide on the drop
  • Incubate 1 hour
  • Gently rinse the slide with water and then PBS

Cell seeding

Purified cells should be seeded onto micropatterns within 1 to 3 days after the purification step had been finished.

  • Wash the purified cells 3 times with PBS
  • Seed the cells at a density of 30 000 cells/cm² for confluent cell attachment

You can also refer to the dedicated User Guide.


Here you can find results from three different experiments using micropatterned protein substrates while observing and analyzing cell migration.

  1. Graphene Oxide micropatterns study
  2. Dynamic adhesion through a photo-activated surface
  3. Motion via asymmetric ratchet micropatterns
1. Graphene oxide micropatterns study

This experiment shows the relevance of the micropattern shape on the cell migration. The coating substrate made via meniscus-draging deposition (MDD) is Graphene oxide (GO), a hydrophilic carbon-based molecule, and the cells are L-929 fibroblasts.


Figure 1: Preparation of the micropatterns in two main steps
(MDD: meniscus-draging deposition; PR : positive photoresists; UV: ultra-violet; RI: reactive-ion)

Observation of the cell migration for 12 hours

  • L-929 fibroblasts move rather on patterned area than unpatterned one
  • On square micropatterns, cells move from left to right only
  • On triangle micropatterns, cells move first from left to right then from right to left (this is due to the fact that the triangle has an asymmetric shape and induces a bidirectional path)
cell migration micropatterns

Figure 2: Time-lapse pictures of the L-929 fibroblasts motion for 12 hours

Quantitative analysis of the cell migration is illustrated on figure 3.

  • Trajectories are different on both micropatterns: on triangle ones, movement is oblique whereas on square ones, it is not
  • On triangle cells, speed and distance of the cells are higher than on square ones
  • Morphology changes due to the micropattern shape
Figure3-1 AN

Figure 3: Representation of the cell trajectories on both micropattern shapes

These results demonstrate that the shape of the micropatterns has a significant impact on the cell speed, trajectory and motion. In addition, the triangle shape is more suitable to induce cell migration without any chemical influence than the square one.

2. Dynamic adhesion through a photo-activated surface

This experiment investigates the link between the cell attachment and the substrate with a spatiotemporal control of the anti-adhesive molecule.
The glass coverslip was modified prior patterning with NPE-TCSP having a photocleavable 2-nitrobenzyl group then incubated with BSA (see figure 4 for details).

Figure4 AN

Figure 4: Representation of the micropatterning technique

Observation of cell migration for 49 hours

  • HEK293 cells are plated onto a fibronectin circular region and cultured for 28 hours
  • A second round area attached to the first one is illuminated by UV (no fibronectin incubation this time)

Cells migrate and proliferate towards this new region (see figure 5).

cell migration micropatterns

Figure 5: Time-lapse images of the HEK293 motion during 49 hours

These results demonstrate the impact of the anti-adhesive substrate on the cell adhesion.

3. Motion via asymmetric ratchet micropatterns

This experiment uses micropatterned agarose stamps and analyzes the cell motion directed by micropatterned ratchets.

cell migration micropatterns

Figure 6: Illustration of the experiment

  • Cells on separate triangle micropatterns do not move at all
  • Cells on a straight line move in a horizontal way
  • Cells on linked triangle move in a predefined direction

Zooming into the interconnected ratchet micropatterns, a deeper analysis at the single cell level:

cell migration micropatterns

Figure 7: Cell migration induced by interconnected triangular shapes

These results demonstrate that the design of the micropatterned substrate of the adhesive molecule determine the direction of the cell migration.


Each of the above experiments reveal a clear influence of the micropatterning techniques on the cell culture on a dish. This 2D substrate modification has a crucial impact on the cell behavior and migration which is confirmed clearly with the experiment 2. We infer from the experiment 1 and 3 that triangular patterns fit more the cell migration study and analysis compared to square ones, for instance.


  • Cell Migration According to Shape of Graphene Oxide Micropatterns
    Sung Eun Kim, Min Sung Kim, Yong Cheol Shin, Seong Un Eom, Jong Ho Lee, Dong-Myeong Shin, Suck Won Hong, Bongju Kim, Jong-Chul Park, Bo Sung Shin, Dohyung Lim,and Dong-Wook Han, 2016.
  • Spatiotemporal control of cell adhesion on a self-assembled monolayer having a photocleavable protecting group
    Jun Nakanishi, Yukiko Kikuchi, Tohru Takarada, Hidekazu Nakayama, Kazuo Yamaguchi and Mizuo Maeda, 2006.
  • Directing cell motions on micropatterned ratchets
    Goher Mahmud, Christopher J. Campbell, Kyle J. M. Bishop, Yulia A. Komarova, Oleg Chaga, Siowling Soh, Sabil Huda, Kristiana Kandere-Grzybowska and Bartosz A. Grzybowski, 2009.