The adhesive interactions of cells with other cells and the extracellular matrix (ECM) play a fundamental role in the organization of cells in differentiated organs, cell motility, and the healing process. The adhesion characteristics of ligament fibroblasts depend on the expression of cell surface molecules and their interaction with the ECM. Although many receptors mediating the effects of ECM components on ligament cell function remain poorly defined, it is known that fibronectin (FN) allows ligament cells to adhere through the VLA-5 receptor (α5β1). A direct measurement of the adhesion between anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or medial collateral ligament (MCL) fibroblasts and fibronectin matrix proteins was achieved by using a micromanipulation technique to determine the force required to detach an ACL or MCL cell from fibronectin-coated glass. We have found that the adhesion strength is not random, but has well-defined functional relationships with the FN concentration and the seeding time (time allowed for the cell to establish attachment). The adhesion strength (i.e., force required to detach) of ACL cells shows a stronger dependence on FN concentration (1, 2, and 5 μg/ml) for short seeding times (15-30 min) than for long seeding times (38-75 min). For MCL cells, the effect of the seeding time on adhesion strength was apparent for all concentrations. For all the seeding times studied and FN concentrations used, MCL cells had higher adhesion strength than ACL cells. The adhesion strengths of ACL and MCL fibroblasts to FN are correlated to cell adhesion area. The normalized adhesion strength (adhesion force/adhesion area) of MCL fibroblasts is approximately 0.025 mdynes/μm2, which is the same as ACL cells for a seeding time from 18 to 50 minutes.

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