Cells preferentially grow on rough substrates

Francesco Gentile, Luca Tirinato, Edmondo Battista, Filippo Causa, Carlo Liberale, Enzo M. di Fabrizio, Paolo Decuzzi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

234 Scopus citations


Substrate nanotopography affects cell adhesion and proliferation and is fundamental to the rational design of bio-adhesives, to tissue engineering and to the development of assays for in-vitro screening. Cell behavior on rough substrates is still elusive, and the results presented in the open literature remain controversial. Here, the proliferation of cells on electrochemically etched silicon substrates with different roughness and nearly similar surface energy was studied over three days with confocal and atomic force microscopy. The surface profile of the substrates is a self-affine fractal with a roughness Ra growing with the etching time from ∼2 to 100 nm and a fractal dimension D ranging between about 2 (nominally flat surface) and 2.6. For four cell types, the number of adhering cells and their proliferation rates exhibited a maximum on moderately rough (Ra ∼ 10-45 nm) nearly Brownian (D ∼2.5) substrates. The observed cell behavior was satisfactorily interpreted within the theory of adhesion to randomly rough solids. These findings demonstrated the importance of nanogeometry in cell stable adhesion and growth, suggesting that moderately rough substrates with large fractal dimension could selectively boost cell proliferation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7205-7212
Number of pages8
Issue number28
StatePublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research activity has been supported by the European Science Foundation EUROCORES Programme FANAS, through funds by the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche and the EC Sixth Framework Programme under contract N. ERAS-CT-2003-980409FANAS. This work was partially funded under the European Project SMD FP7-NMP 2800-SMALL-2 proposal no. CP-FP 229375-2. The authors would like to thank the reviewers for their useful comments and suggestions. PD would like to thank Dr. Giuseppe Carbone at the Politecnico di Bari (IT) for helpful discussions on the fractal analysis of randomly rough substrates.


  • Cell adhesion
  • Cell proliferation
  • Fractal surfaces
  • Nanotopography
  • Rational design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials


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