Wong KK, Li WA, Mooney DJ, Dranoff G. Advances in Therapeutic Cancer Vaccines. Adv Immunol. 2016;130 :191-249.Abstract
Therapeutic cancer vaccines aim to induce durable antitumor immunity that is capable of systemic protection against tumor recurrence or metastatic disease. Many approaches to therapeutic cancer vaccines have been explored, with varying levels of success. However, with the exception of Sipuleucel T, an ex vivo dendritic cell vaccine for prostate cancer, no therapeutic cancer vaccine has yet shown clinical efficacy in phase 3 randomized trials. Though disappointing, lessons learned from these studies have suggested new strategies to improve cancer vaccines. The clinical success of checkpoint blockade has underscored the role of peripheral tolerance mechanisms in limiting vaccine responses and highlighted the potential for combination therapies. Recent advances in transcriptome sequencing, computational modeling, and material engineering further suggest new opportunities to intensify cancer vaccines. This review will discuss the major approaches to therapeutic cancer vaccination and explore recent advances that inform the design of the next generation of cancer vaccines.
Maione AG, Smith A, Kashpur O, Yanez V, Knight E, Mooney DJ, Veves A, Tomic-Canic M, Garlick JA. Altered ECM deposition by diabetic foot ulcer-derived fibroblasts implicates fibronectin in chronic wound repair. Wound Repair Regen. 2016;24 (4) :630-43.Abstract
Current chronic wound treatments often fail to promote healing of diabetic foot ulcers (DFU), leading to amputation and increased patient morbidity. A critical mediator of proper wound healing is the production, assembly, and remodeling of the extracellular matrix (ECM) by fibroblasts. However, little is known about how these processes are altered in fibroblasts within the DFU microenvironment. Thus, we investigated the capacity of multiple, primary DFU-derived fibroblast strains to express, produce, and assemble ECM proteins compared to diabetic patient-derived fibroblasts and healthy donor-derived fibroblasts. Gene expression microarray analysis showed differential expression of ECM and ECM-regulatory genes by DFU-derived fibroblasts which translated to functional differences in a 3D in vitro ECM tissue model. DFU-derived fibroblasts produced thin, fibronectin-rich matrices, and responded abnormally when challenged with transforming growth factor-beta, a key regulator of matrix production during healing. These results provide novel evidence that DFU-derived fibroblasts contribute to the defective matrices of DFUs and chronic wound pathogenesis.
Koshy ST, Mooney DJ. Biomaterials for enhancing anti-cancer immunity. Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2016;40 :1-8.Abstract
Cancer immunotherapy is becoming a standard approach to treat many cancers. However, shortcomings of current methods limit therapeutic benefit in many patients. Rationally designed biomaterial strategies to deliver immune modulatory drugs can potentially show improved safety profiles, while providing multifunctional and spatiotemporally controlled signals to immune cells to improve their anti-cancer activity. This brief review describes biomaterials-based strategies that enhance immune cell function at various tissue sites to improve anti-cancer immunity. Continued collaboration between bioengineers, immunologists, industry, and clinicians is required for biomaterial-based immunotherapy strategies to continue moving to the clinic.
Branco da Cunha C, Klumpers DD, Koshy ST, Weaver JC, Chaudhuri O, Seruca R, Carneiro F, Granja PL, Mooney DJ. CD44 alternative splicing in gastric cancer cells is regulated by culture dimensionality and matrix stiffness. Biomaterials. 2016;98 :152-62.Abstract
Two-dimensional (2D) cultures often fail to mimic key architectural and physical features of the tumor microenvironment. Advances in biomaterial engineering allow the design of three-dimensional (3D) cultures within hydrogels that mimic important tumor-like features, unraveling cancer cell behaviors that would not have been observed in traditional 2D plastic surfaces. This study determined how 3D cultures impact CD44 alternative splicing in gastric cancer (GC) cells. In 3D cultures, GC cells lost expression of the standard CD44 isoform (CD44s), while gaining CD44 variant 6 (CD44v6) expression. This splicing switch was reversible, accelerated by nutrient shortage and delayed at lower initial cell densities, suggesting an environmental stress-induced response. It was further shown to be dependent on the hydrogel matrix mechanical properties and accompanied by the upregulation of genes involved in epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), metabolism and angiogenesis. The 3D cultures reported here revealed the same CD44 alternative splicing pattern previously observed in human premalignant and malignant gastric lesions. These findings indicate that fundamental features of 3D cultures - such as soluble factors diffusion and mechanical cues - influence CD44 expression in GC cells. Moreover, this study provides a new model system to study CD44 dysfunction, whose role in cancer has been in the spotlight for decades.
Mao AS, Shin J-W, Mooney DJ. Effects of substrate stiffness and cell-cell contact on mesenchymal stem cell differentiation. Biomaterials. 2016;98 :184-91.Abstract
The mechanical properties of the microenvironment and direct contact-mediated cell-cell interactions are two variables known to be important in the determination of stem cell differentiation fate, but little is known about the interplay of these cues. Here, we use a micropatterning approach on polyacrylamide gels of tunable stiffnesses to study how homotypic cell-cell contacts and mechanical stiffness affect different stages of osteogenesis of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Nuclear localization of transcription factors associated with osteogenesis depended on substrate stiffness and was independent of the degree of cell-cell contact. However, expression of alkaline phosphatase, an early protein marker for osteogenesis, increased only in cells with both direct contact with neighboring cells and adhesion to stiffer substrates. Finally, mature osteogenesis, as assessed by calcium deposition, was low in micropatterned cells, even on stiff substrates and in multicellular clusters. These results indicate that substrate stiffness and the presence of neighboring cells regulate osteogenesis in MSCs.
Gerami-Naini B, Smith A, Maione AG, Kashpur O, Carpinito G, Veves A, Mooney DJ, Garlick JA. Generation of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells from Diabetic Foot Ulcer Fibroblasts Using a Nonintegrative Sendai Virus. Cell Reprogram. 2016;18 (4) :214-23.Abstract
Diabetic foot ulcers (DFUs) are nonhealing chronic wounds that are a serious complication of diabetes. Since induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) may offer a potent source of autologous cells to heal these wounds, we studied if repair-deficient fibroblasts, derived from DFU patients and age- and site-matched control fibroblasts, could be reprogrammed to iPSCs. To establish this, we used Sendai virus to successfully reprogram six primary fibroblast cell lines derived from ulcerated skin of two DFU patients (DFU8, DFU25), nonulcerated foot skin from two diabetic patients (DFF24, DFF9), and healthy foot skin from two nondiabetic patients (NFF12, NFF14). We confirmed reprogramming to a pluripotent state through three independent criteria: immunofluorescent staining for SSEA-4 and TRA-1-81, formation of embryoid bodies with differentiation potential to all three embryonic germ layers in vitro, and formation of teratomas in vivo. All iPSC lines showed normal karyotypes and typical, nonmethylated CpG sites for OCT4 and NANOG. iPSCs derived from DFUs were similar to those derived from site-matched nonulcerated skin from both diabetic and nondiabetic patients. These results have established for the first time that multiple, DFU-derived fibroblast cell lines can be reprogrammed with efficiencies similar to control fibroblasts, thus demonstrating their utility for future regenerative therapy of DFUs.
Rosenfeld D, Landau S, Shandalov Y, Raindel N, Freiman A, Shor E, Blinder Y, Vandenburgh HH, Mooney DJ, Levenberg S. Morphogenesis of 3D vascular networks is regulated by tensile forces. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016;113 (12) :3215-20.Abstract
Understanding the forces controlling vascular network properties and morphology can enhance in vitro tissue vascularization and graft integration prospects. This work assessed the effect of uniaxial cell-induced and externally applied tensile forces on the morphology of vascular networks formed within fibroblast and endothelial cell-embedded 3D polymeric constructs. Force intensity correlated with network quality, as verified by inhibition of force and of angiogenesis-related regulators. Tensile forces during vessel formation resulted in parallel vessel orientation under static stretching and diagonal orientation under cyclic stretching, supported by angiogenic factors secreted in response to each stretch protocol. Implantation of scaffolds bearing network orientations matching those of host abdominal muscle tissue improved graft integration and the mechanical properties of the implantation site, a critical factor in repair of defects in this area. This study demonstrates the regulatory role of forces in angiogenesis and their capacities in vessel structure manipulation, which can be exploited to improve scaffolds for tissue repair.
Choi C-H, Wang H, Lee H, Kim JH, Zhang L, Mao A, Mooney DJ, Weitz DA. One-step generation of cell-laden microgels using double emulsion drops with a sacrificial ultra-thin oil shell. Lab Chip. 2016;16 (9) :1549-55.Abstract
Cell-laden microgels with highly uniform sizes have significant potential in tissue engineering and cell therapy due to their capability to provide a physiologically relevant three-dimensional (3D) microenvironment for living cells. In this work, we present a simple and efficient microfluidic approach to produce monodisperse cell-laden microgels through the use of double emulsion drops with an ultra-thin oil shell as the sacrificial template. Specifically, the thin oil shell in double emulsion spontaneously dewets upon polymerization of the innermost precursor drop and subsequent transfer into an aqueous solution, resulting in direct dispersion of microgels in the aqueous phase. Compared to conventional single emulsion-based techniques for cell encapsulation, this one-step approach prevents prolonged exposure of cells to the oil phase, leading to high-throughput cell encapsulation in microgels without compromising the cell viability. Moreover, this approach allows us to culture cells within a 3D microgel which mimics the extracellular matrix, thus enabling long-term cell functionality. This microfluidic technique represents a significant step forward in high-throughput cell microencapsulation technology and offers a potentially viable option to produce cell-laden microgels for widespread applications in tissue engineering and cell therapies.
Pumberger M, Qazi TH, Ehrentraut CM, Textor M, Kueper J, Stoltenburg-Didinger G, Winkler T, von Roth P, Reinke S, Borselli C, et al. Synthetic niche to modulate regenerative potential of MSCs and enhance skeletal muscle regeneration. Biomaterials. 2016;99 :95-108.Abstract
Severe injury to the skeletal muscle often results in the formation of scar tissue, leading to a decline in functional performance. Traditionally, tissue engineering strategies for muscle repair have focused on substrates that promote myogenic differentiation of transplanted cells. In the current study, the reported data indicates that mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) transplanted via porous alginate cryogels promote muscle regeneration by secreting bioactive factors that profoundly influence the function of muscle progenitor cells. These cellular functions, which include heightened resistance of muscle progenitor cells to apoptosis, migration to site of injury, and prevention of premature differentiation are highly desirable in the healing cascade after acute muscle trauma. Furthermore, stimulation of MSCs with recombinant growth factors IGF-1 and VEGF165 was found to significantly enhance their paracrine effects on muscle progenitor cells. Multifunctional alginate cryogels were then utilized as synthetic niches that facilitate local stimulation of seeded MSCs by providing a sustained release of growth factors. In a clinically relevant injury model, the modulation of MSC paracrine signaling via engineered niches significantly improved muscle function by remodeling scar tissue and promoting the formation of new myofibers, outperforming standalone cell or growth factor delivery.
Chaudhuri O, Gu L, Klumpers D, Darnell M, Bencherif SA, Weaver JC, Huebsch N, Lee H-P, Lippens E, Duda GN, et al. Hydrogels with tunable stress relaxation regulate stem cell fate and activity. Nat Mater. 2016;15 (3) :326-34.Abstract
Natural extracellular matrices (ECMs) are viscoelastic and exhibit stress relaxation. However, hydrogels used as synthetic ECMs for three-dimensional (3D) culture are typically elastic. Here, we report a materials approach to tune the rate of stress relaxation of hydrogels for 3D culture, independently of the hydrogel's initial elastic modulus, degradation, and cell-adhesion-ligand density. We find that cell spreading, proliferation, and osteogenic differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are all enhanced in cells cultured in gels with faster relaxation. Strikingly, MSCs form a mineralized, collagen-1-rich matrix similar to bone in rapidly relaxing hydrogels with an initial elastic modulus of 17 kPa. We also show that the effects of stress relaxation are mediated by adhesion-ligand binding, actomyosin contractility and mechanical clustering of adhesion ligands. Our findings highlight stress relaxation as a key characteristic of cell-ECM interactions and as an important design parameter of biomaterials for cell culture.
Astarita JL, Cremasco V, Fu J, Darnell MC, Peck JR, Nieves-Bonilla JM, Song K, Kondo Y, Woodruff MC, Gogineni A, et al. The CLEC-2-podoplanin axis controls the contractility of fibroblastic reticular cells and lymph node microarchitecture. Nat Immunol. 2015;16 (1) :75-84.Abstract
In lymph nodes, fibroblastic reticular cells (FRCs) form a collagen-based reticular network that supports migratory dendritic cells (DCs) and T cells and transports lymph. A hallmark of FRCs is their propensity to contract collagen, yet this function is poorly understood. Here we demonstrate that podoplanin (PDPN) regulates actomyosin contractility in FRCs. Under resting conditions, when FRCs are unlikely to encounter mature DCs expressing the PDPN receptor CLEC-2, PDPN endowed FRCs with contractile function and exerted tension within the reticulum. Upon inflammation, CLEC-2 on mature DCs potently attenuated PDPN-mediated contractility, which resulted in FRC relaxation and reduced tissue stiffness. Disrupting PDPN function altered the homeostasis and spacing of FRCs and T cells, which resulted in an expanded reticular network and enhanced immunity.
Béduer A, Braschler T, Peric O, Fantner GE, Mosser S, Fraering PC, Benchérif S, Mooney DJ, Renaud P. A compressible scaffold for minimally invasive delivery of large intact neuronal networks. Adv Healthc Mater. 2015;4 (2) :301-12.Abstract
Millimeter to centimeter-sized injectable neural scaffolds based on macroporous cryogels are presented. The polymer-scaffolds are made from alginate and carboxymethyl-cellulose by a novel simple one-pot cryosynthesis. They allow surgical sterility by means of autoclaving, and present native laminin as an attachment motive for neural adhesion and neurite development. They are designed to protect an extended, living neuronal network during compression to a small fraction of the original volume in order to enable minimally invasive delivery. The scaffolds behave as a mechanical meta-material: they are soft at the macroscopic scale, enabling injection through narrow-bore tubing and potentially good cellular scaffold integration in soft target tissues such as the brain. At the same time, the scaffold material has a high local Young modulus, allowing protection of the neuronal network during injection. Based on macroscopic and nanomechanical characterization, the generic geometrical and mechanical design rules are presented, enabling macroporous cellular scaffold injectability.
Paluri RK, Morgan CJ, Mooney DJ, Mgbemena O, Yang ES, Wei S, Kouba E, Naik G, El Mouallem NR, Poston T, et al. Effect of African-American Race on Tumor Recurrence After Radical Cystectomy for Urothelial Carcinoma of the Bladder. Clin Genitourin Cancer. 2015;13 (5) :469-75.Abstract
BACKGROUND: African-American race appears to be associated with higher stages of urothelial carcinoma of the bladder (UCB) at presentation and poorer survival. However, the independent effect of African-American race on objective tumor recurrence after radical cystectomy (RC) after controlling for clinical and pathologic variables is unknown. PATIENTS AND METHODS: The data from consecutive patients with UCB who underwent RC with curative intent at a single institution (University of Alabama, Birmingham) from 2001 to 2012 with or without perioperative chemotherapy or chemoradiation were reviewed. The patient demographics, risk factors, clinical course, pathologic characteristics, and long-term outcomes were collected. Descriptive statistics were performed. Cox regression analysis was performed for key clinical, demographic, and pathologic variables, including race, stratified as African American versus white. RESULTS: A total of 215 patients, 163 men (76%) and 52 women (24%), with a mean age at RC of 65.6 years, were identified and reviewed. A total of 186 patients (87%) were white and 28 (13%) were African American. The median follow-up period after RC was 17.6 months. On conventional multivariate analysis, African-American race nearly attained statistical significance (hazard ratio [HR], 2.48; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.98-6.29; P = .055). In a stepwise regression model, race was significantly associated with tumor recurrence (HR, 3.11; 95% CI, 1.2-7.4; P < .011). CONCLUSION: African-American race appears to be independently associated with a greater risk of tumor recurrence after RC for UCB. The effect of host genetics on tumor biology needs to be characterized at the genomic level to develop precision medicine.
Maione AG, Brudno Y, Stojadinovic O, Park LK, Smith A, Tellechea A, Leal EC, Kearney CJ, Veves A, Tomic-Canic M, et al. Three-dimensional human tissue models that incorporate diabetic foot ulcer-derived fibroblasts mimic in vivo features of chronic wounds. Tissue Eng Part C Methods. 2015;21 (5) :499-508.Abstract
Diabetic foot ulcers (DFU) are a major, debilitating complication of diabetes mellitus. Unfortunately, many DFUs are refractory to existing treatments and frequently lead to amputation. The development of more effective therapies has been hampered by the lack of predictive in vitro methods to investigate the mechanisms underlying impaired healing. To address this need for realistic wound-healing models, we established patient-derived fibroblasts from DFUs and site-matched controls and used them to construct three-dimensional (3D) models of chronic wound healing. Incorporation of DFU-derived fibroblasts into these models accurately recapitulated the following key aspects of chronic ulcers: reduced stimulation of angiogenesis, increased keratinocyte proliferation, decreased re-epithelialization, and impaired extracellular matrix deposition. In addition to reflecting clinical attributes of DFUs, the wound-healing potential of DFU fibroblasts demonstrated in this suite of models correlated with in vivo wound closure in mice. Thus, the reported panel of 3D DFU models provides a more biologically relevant platform for elucidating the cell-cell and cell-matrix-related mechanisms responsible for chronic wound pathogenesis and may improve translation of in vitro findings into efficacious clinical applications.
Cheung AS, Mooney DJ. Engineered Materials for Cancer Immunotherapy. Nano Today. 2015;10 (4) :511-531.Abstract
Immunotherapy is a promising treatment modality for cancer as it can promote specific and durable anti-cancer responses. However, limitations to current approaches remain. Therapeutics administered as soluble injections often require high doses and frequent re-dosing, which can result in systemic toxicities. Soluble bolus-based vaccine formulations typically elicit weak cellular immune responses, limiting their use for cancer. Current methods for ex vivo T cell expansion for adoptive T cell therapies are suboptimal, and achieving high T cell persistence and sustained functionality with limited systemic toxicity following transfer remains challenging. Biomaterials can play important roles in addressing some of these limitations. For example, nanomaterials can be employed as vehicles to deliver immune modulating payloads to specific tissues, cells, and cellular compartments with minimal off-target toxicity, or to co-deliver antigen and danger signal in therapeutic vaccine formulations. Alternatively, micro-to macroscale materials can be employed as devices for controlled molecular and cellular delivery, or as engineered microenvironments for recruiting and programming immune cells in situ. Recent work has demonstrated the potential for combining cancer immunotherapy and biomaterials, and the application of biomaterials to cancer immunotherapy is likely to enable the development of effective next-generation platforms. This review discusses the application of engineered materials for the delivery of immune modulating agents to the tumor microenvironment, therapeutic cancer vaccination, and adoptive T cell therapy.
Blinder YJ, Freiman A, Raindel N, Mooney DJ, Levenberg S. Vasculogenic dynamics in 3D engineered tissue constructs. Sci Rep. 2015;5 :17840.Abstract
Implantable 3D engineered vascular tissue constructs can be formed by co-culturing endothelial and fibroblast cells on macroporous scaffolds. Here we show that these constructs can be used for studying the dynamics of neovascular formation in-vitro by a combination of live confocal imaging and an array of image processing and analysis tools, revealing multiple distinct stages of morphogenesis. We show that this process involves both vasculogenic and angiogenic elements, including an initial endothelial multicellular cluster formation followed by rapid extensive sprouting, ultimately resulting in a stable interconnected endothelial network morphology. This vascular morphogenesis is time-correlated with the deposition and formation of an extensive extra-cellular matrix environment. We further show that endothelial network junctions are formed by two separate morphogenic mechanisms of anastomosis and cluster thinning.
Tellechea A, Silva EA, Min J, Leal EC, Auster ME, Pradhan-Nabzdyk L, Shih W, Mooney DJ, Veves A. Alginate and DNA Gels Are Suitable Delivery Systems for Diabetic Wound Healing. Int J Low Extrem Wounds. 2015;14 (2) :146-53.Abstract
Diabetic foot ulcers (DFU) represent a severe health problem and an unmet clinical challenge. In this study, we tested the efficacy of novel biomaterials in improving wound healing in mouse models of diabetes mellitus (DM). The biomaterials are composed of alginate- and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)-based gels that allow incorporation of effector cells, such as outgrowth endothelial cells (OEC), and provide sustained release of bioactive factors, such as neuropeptides and growth factors, which have been previously validated in experimental models of DM wound healing or hind limb ischemia. We tested these biomaterials in mice and demonstrate that they are biocompatible and can be injected into the wound margins without major adverse effects. In addition, we show that the combination of OEC and the neuropeptide Substance P has a better healing outcome than the delivery of OEC alone, while subtherapeutic doses of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) are required for the transplanted cells to exert their beneficial effects in wound healing. In summary, alginate and DNA scaffolds could serve as potential delivery systems for the next-generation DFU therapies.
Qazi TH, Mooney DJ, Pumberger M, Geissler S, Duda GN. Biomaterials based strategies for skeletal muscle tissue engineering: existing technologies and future trends. Biomaterials. 2015;53 :502-21.Abstract
Skeletal muscles have a robust capacity to regenerate, but under compromised conditions, such as severe trauma, the loss of muscle functionality is inevitable. Research carried out in the field of skeletal muscle tissue engineering has elucidated multiple intrinsic mechanisms of skeletal muscle repair, and has thus sought to identify various types of cells and bioactive factors which play an important role during regeneration. In order to maximize the potential therapeutic effects of cells and growth factors, several biomaterial based strategies have been developed and successfully implemented in animal muscle injury models. A suitable biomaterial can be utilized as a template to guide tissue reorganization, as a matrix that provides optimum micro-environmental conditions to cells, as a delivery vehicle to carry bioactive factors which can be released in a controlled manner, and as local niches to orchestrate in situ tissue regeneration. A myriad of biomaterials, varying in geometrical structure, physical form, chemical properties, and biofunctionality have been investigated for skeletal muscle tissue engineering applications. In the current review, we present a detailed summary of studies where the use of biomaterials favorably influenced muscle repair. Biomaterials in the form of porous three-dimensional scaffolds, hydrogels, fibrous meshes, and patterned substrates with defined topographies, have each displayed unique benefits, and are discussed herein. Additionally, several biomaterial based approaches aimed specifically at stimulating vascularization, innervation, and inducing contractility in regenerating muscle tissues are also discussed. Finally, we outline promising future trends in the field of muscle regeneration involving a deeper understanding of the endogenous healing cascades and utilization of this knowledge for the development of multifunctional, hybrid, biomaterials which support and enable muscle regeneration under compromised conditions.
Mehta M, Madl CM, Lee S, Duda GN, Mooney DJ. The collagen I mimetic peptide DGEA enhances an osteogenic phenotype in mesenchymal stem cells when presented from cell-encapsulating hydrogels. J Biomed Mater Res A. 2015;103 (11) :3516-25.Abstract
Interactions between cells and the extracellular matrix (ECM) are known to play critical roles in regulating cell phenotype. The identity of ECM ligands presented to mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) has previously been shown to direct the cell fate commitment of these cells. To enhance osteogenic differentiation of MSCs, alginate hydrogels were prepared that present the DGEA ligand derived from collagen I. When presented from hydrogel surfaces in 2D, the DGEA ligand did not facilitate cell adhesion, while hydrogels presenting the RGD ligand derived from fibronectin did encourage cell adhesion and spreading. However, the osteogenic differentiation of MSCs encapsulated within alginate hydrogels presenting the DGEA ligand was enhanced when compared with unmodified alginate hydrogels and hydrogels presenting the RGD ligand. MSCs cultured in DGEA-presenting gels exhibited increased levels of osteocalcin production and mineral deposition. These data suggest that the presentation of the collagen I-derived DGEA ligand is a feasible approach for selectively inducing an osteogenic phenotype in encapsulated MSCs.
Klumpers DD, Smit TH, Mooney DJ. The effect of growth-mimicking continuous strain on the early stages of skeletal development in micromass culture. PLoS One. 2015;10 (4) :e0124948.Abstract
Embryonic skeletogenesis involves proliferation, condensation and subsequent chondrogenic differentiation of mesenchymal precursor cells, and the strains and stresses inherent to these processes have been hypothesized to influence skeletal development. The aim of this study was to determine the effect of growth-mimicking strain on the process of early skeletal development in vitro. To this end, we applied continuous uniaxial strain to embryonic skeletal precursor cells in micromass culture. Strain was applied at different times of culture to specifically address the effect of mechanical loading on the sequential stages of cellular proliferation, condensation and differentiation. We found that growth-mimicking strain at all three times did not affect proliferation or chondrogenic differentiation under the tested conditions. However, the timing of the applied strain did play a role in the density of mesenchymal condensations. This finding suggests that a mechanically dynamic environment, and specifically strain, can influence skeletal patterning. The growth-mimicking micromass model presented here may be a useful tool for further studies into the role of mechanical loading in early skeletal development.