Stem cells have been shown to have the potential to provide a source of cells for applications to tissue engineering and organ repair. The mechanisms that regulate stem cell fate, however, mostly remain unclear. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are multipotent progenitor cells that are isolated from bone marrow and other adult tissues, and can be differentiated into multiple cell lineages, such as bone, cartilage, fat, muscles and neurons. Although previous studies have focused intensively on the effects of chemical signals that regulate MSC commitment, the effects of physical/mechanical cues of the microenvironment on MSC fate determination have long been neglected. However, several studies provided evidence that mechanical signals, both direct and indirect, played important roles in regulating a stem cell fate. In this review, we summarize a number of recent studies on how cell adhesion and mechanical cues influence the differentiation of MSCs into specific lineages. Understanding how chemical and mechanical cues in the microenvironment orchestrate stem cell differentiation may provide new insights into ways to improve our techniques in cell therapy and organ repair.
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