Actin-templated Structures: Nature's Way to Hierarchical Surface Patterns (Gecko's Setae as Case Study)

The hierarchical design of the toe pad surface in geckos and its reversible adhesiveness have inspired material scientists for many years. Micro- and nano-patterned surfaces with impressive adhesive performance have been developed to mimic gecko's properties. While the adhesive performance achieved in some examples has surpassed living counterparts, the durability of the fabricated surfaces is limited and the capability to self-renew and restore function—inherent to biological systems—is unimaginable. Here the morphogenesis of gecko setae using skin samples from the Bibron´s gecko (Chondrodactylus bibronii) is studied. Gecko setae develop as specialized apical differentiation structures at a distinct cell–cell layer interface within the skin epidermis. A primary role for F-actin and microtubules as templating structural elements is necessary for the development of setae's hierarchical morphology, and a stabilization role of keratins and corneus beta proteins is identified. Setae grow from single cells in a bottom layer protruding into four neighboring cells in the upper layer. The resulting multicellular junction can play a role during shedding by facilitating fracture of the cell–cell interface and release of the high aspect ratio setae. The results contribute to the understanding of setae regeneration and may inspire future concepts to bioengineer self-renewable patterned adhesive surfaces.