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Study of protein adsorption and cell adhesion on smart substrates

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The design of functional surfaces that allow controlling the adhesion of cells is a highly active field of research : it encompasses both fundamental and technological challenges in the current quests for (i) tailoring in vitro the interactions of mammalian cells with their culture substrates, (ii) the prevention of bacterial adhesion and the development of anti-fouling surfaces.

Adhesion of cells on a surface is mediated by proteins that are present in the extra-cellular environment and must adsorb on the surface in order to provide the required anchoring points for the cells. In this context, a very promising strategy to control adhesion is to use substrates grafted with polymer brushes, i.e. nanometer-thin layers of macromolecules tethered by one end to the surface. Polymer brushes are expected to allow for the control of protein adsorption by acting as « steric barriers », with an efficiency that strongly depends on their molecular structure (length of the polymer chains, number of chains per unit area, conformation). The rational design of these functional surfaces now calls for a better knowledge of how such parameters do influence adsorption of proteins. The proposed project will address this very question as follows : i) fluorescence confocal microscopy will be employed to monitor quantitatively the adsorption/release of proteins from well-controlled brushes made of a thermosensitive polymer (PNIPAM), on which our team has a solid expertise, and thus investigate the effect of the molecular parameters of the brushes and of the size and nature of the protein, ii) this study will be correlated with the adhesive behavior of cells and bacteria on brushes, probed by Reflection Contrast Interference Microscopy (RICM) on an original setup that has been recently built in our group.

This internship can be followed by a PhD.

Contacts :

Lionel Bureau (

Delphine Débarre (