Retina Epithelium Mechanobiology and Diseases
In the laboratory, we use stem-cell derived retina organoids to reproduce retina neuroepithelium and study the relation of RPE monolayer mechanobiology with photoreceptors cells and their interaction with other cell layers. The figure and video show the three-dimensional cellular organization of the retina organoids and their level of differentiation with inner nuclear layer cells (marked with Pax6) and photoreceptors cells (marked with opsin).
To study the effect biochemical and physical cues on RPE mechanics, we mimic BrM using hydrogels systems of controlled stiffness and functionalization. Hydrogels not only better mimic physiological stiffnesses, but also give us the possibility to employ mechanobiology techniques that allow both qualitative and quantitative evaluation of adhesive forces on the ECM (traction force microscopy) and at cell-cell junctions (monolayer stress microscopy). Different functionalization techniques can be used to study cell adhesion: full leght ECM proteins can be crosslinked on the gel surface or specific ECM-derived peptides can be bound on gold nanoparticles.
Mimicking Bruch's Membrane to Investigate RPE Mechanobiology
Stem-cell Based Retina Research Model
The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is a highly specialized cell layer located at the base of the retinal neuroepithelium. During development, the RPE is crucial for retina organization, while in the adult eye it defines the blood-retinal barrier, is crucial for light absorption and is responsible for the metabolic support of the light detecting rods and cones of the neuroepithelium.
RPE cells are tightly bound to the underlying basement membrane (BM), which is part of a thicker layer of extracellular matrix (ECM) called Bruch’s membrane (BrM). While the BM components carry the biochemical information for RPE adhesion, deeper layers of the BrM, composed of fibrillar collagen types I, III and V and elastin fibers, are proposed to determine physical properties of RPE.
BrM characteristics are very important for the retina homeostasis and RPE functions, not only providing support for RPE cells and acting as a physical separation between the RPE and the choroid blood vessels, but also being an integral part of the blood-retina barrier, thus, regulating the diffusion of biomolecules.
Mechanobiology of Collective Cell Migration
Joachim Spatz - Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Heidelberg

We investigate collective migration in epithelial cells using a simplified in-vitro model of wound healing. Monolayer forces are quantified using mechanobiology techniques such as traction force and monolayer stress microscopy as shown in the figure.
Collective cell migration is a fundamental biological process characterizing embryogenesis, cancer progression and wound healing. At the singular cell level, the mechanism regulating the migration process is the coordination between cell-cell adhesion structures and cell-extracellular (ECM) adhesion. Many studies have already elucidated the role of junctional components and their regulation during migration, but little is still known about the regulation of cell-ECM adhesion and how these two adhesion sites “communicate” to coordinate collective migration. Our research focus on understanding the role of ECM receptors in coordinating cellular movements.

Natalia Simon

Student Assistant "Hiwi"
Technical Assistant

Dr. rer. nat. Jacopo Di Russo

+49-241 80-88974
Group Leader

Timmy Steins

REMeD Team

Teodora Piskova

Sristi Sri Ramayani

Master Student
Intern - Maastricht University

John Mains-Sheard

Master Student
PhD Student

Aleksandra Kozyrina

Erasmus Student

Aiora Martínez-Vílchez

Funding and Support
Institute for Molecular and Cellular Anatomy
Wendlingweg 2
RWTH Aachen University
D-52057 Aachen