New Research Questions How Connective Tissues Are Formed

BioE Professor Jeffrey Ruberti’s new research, published in the journal Matter, suggests that connective tissues in the human body are more likely formed by cells pulling apart than coming together. Ruberti conducted the research with BioE Associate Research Scientist Seyed Mohammad Siadat; Alexandra Silverman, MS’21, bioengineering; and Jason Olszewski, E’24, bioengineering.

This article originally appeared on Northeastern Global News. It was published by Cesareo Contreras. Main photo: Human corneal cells (shown in blue) forming the fine filaments of the extracellular matrix (yellow collagen and red fibronectin) that will form structure that becomes a tissue. Courtesy photo from Alexandra Silverman

Our ligaments and bones don’t grow the way we thought, new Northeastern research finds

New research by Northeastern scientists questions the long-held belief that the connective tissues that give us mechanical strength, such as tendons, ligaments, bones and skin, form in the human body by cells coming together.

Instead, our tissues are more likely formed by cells pulling apart, according to the research published in Matter today.

It’s long been held that human cells form and connect tissues together using patterns encoded into our DNA, says Jeff Ruberti, professor of bioengineering at Northeastern University and a co-author of the study.

“We don’t really understand how tiny cells working together with molecules much smaller than themselves are able to integrate and establish these lovely, mechanically efficient patterns that become us over time,” he says. “The theory has long been that the cells basically are individually depositing, or printing the tissues, out using a pattern or algorithm.”

Northeastern professor of bioengineering Jeffrey Ruberti (right) and Jason Olszewski, a student research assistant, work in Ruberti’s ISEC lab on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

But that’s just a theory, he explains. Ruberti and three researchers that worked in his lab have now challenged that, providing evidence that collagen, the main protein that forms much of our tissue, is not pre-fabricated and positioned by the cells, but rather formed by our cells cooperatively pulling apart from each other.

“This material tends to accumulate in the path of force, where it reaches a lower energy state but is under high tensile load. So, what we propose is that the cells and your body work together to produce structure by literally creating lines of tension along which collagen precipitates into structure. In short, the force causes the structure that then resists the force that caused it.”

Ruberti conducted the research with Seyed Mohammad Siadat, a research scientist in his lab, Alexandra Silverman, who graduated from Northeastern with a master’s in bioengineering and Jason Olszewski, a fourth-year bioengineering major.

Read full story at Northeastern Global News

Related Faculty: Jeffrey W. Ruberti

Related Departments:Bioengineering