The effects of the topography, adhesiveness and chemistry of surfaces in modulating the behaviour of cells in vivo and in vitro have been extensively researched. However, few natural systems are simple enough to allow straightforward conclusions to be drawn, as many different cues are likely to be present at one time. Microelectronic fabrication, normally employed in making integrated circuits, can produce substrates patterned on scales highly relevant to studies of cell behaviour.
In this paper, we describe progress in fabricating simple artificial substrata both at the micrometer and sub-micrometer scales. The former can be considered as models for contact guidance along other cells or axonal processes: the latter, models for guidance along aligned collagen matrices. We have systematically studied the reactions of different cell types to simple cues (steps and grooves). Additionally, it may be possible to produce fine-resolution patterns with differential adhesiveness, or with other cell-specific surface-chemical properties, such as the differential deposition of proteins, e.g. cell adhesion molecules. We also describe early results in using topographic and other cues to guide cells onto patterned metal electrodes, forming simple electrically active networks of controlled design, from which long-term recordings can conveniently be made.