Motile human-skin fibroblasts form macroscopic swirling patterns when grown to confluence on a culture dish. In this paper, we investigate the effect of coating the culture-dish surface with collagen on the resulting pattern, using human-skin fibroblast NB1RGB cells as the model system. The presence of the collagen coating is expected to enhance the adherence of the fibroblasts to the dish surface, and thereby also enhance the traction that the fibroblasts have as they move. We find that, contrary to our initial expectation, the coating does not significantly affect the motility of the fibroblasts. Their eventual number density at confluence is also unaffected. However, the coherence length of cell orientation in the swirling pattern is diminished. We also find that the fibroblasts cultured in collagen-coated dishes are rounder in shape and shorter in perimeter, compared with those cultured in uncoated polystyrene or glass culture dishes. We hypothesise that the rounder cell-shape which weakens the cell–cell nematic contact interaction is responsible for the change in coherence length. A simple mathematical model of the migrating fibroblasts is constructed, which demonstrates that constant motility with weaker nematic interaction strength does indeed lead to the shortening of the coherence length.
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