Many strategies for controlling the fate of transplanted stem cells rely on the concurrent delivery of soluble growth factors that have the potential to produce undesirable secondary effects in surrounding tissue. Such off target effects could be eliminated by locally presenting growth factor peptide mimics from biomaterial scaffolds to control stem cell fate. Peptide mimics of bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP-2) were synthesized by solid phase Fmoc-peptide synthesis and covalently bound to alginate hydrogels via either carbodiimide or sulfhydryl-based coupling strategies. Successful peptide conjugation was confirmed by 1H-NMR spectroscopy and quantified by fluorescently labeling the peptides. Peptides derived from the knuckle epitope of BMP-2, presented from both 2D surfaces and 3D alginate hydrogels, were shown to increase alkaline phosphatase activity in clonally derived murine osteoblasts. Furthermore, when presented in 3D hydrogels, these peptides were shown to initiate Smad signaling, upregulate osteopontin production, and increase mineral deposition with clonally derived murine mesenchymal stem cells. These data suggest that these peptide-conjugated hydrogels may be effective alternatives to local BMP-2 release in directly and spatially eliciting osteogenesis from transplanted or host osteoprogenitors in the future.
bone morphogenetic protein; peptide mimic; mesenchymal stem cell; osteogenesis
Cellular therapies have great potential to provide alternative treatment options for those suffering from heart disease. In order to optimize cell delivery for therapeutic efficacy, a greater understanding of parameters that impact stem cell differentiation, survival, growth, and development are needed. In this study, we examine the role of hydrogel crosslink density on spontaneous cardiomyocyte (CM) differentiation of murine embryoid bodies (EBs). CM differentiation was accelerated in hydrogels of low crosslink density, where 100% of the hydrogels were positive for CM differentiation compared to only 53% in the high crosslink density group after 8 days of culture. DNA microarray data suggests that enhanced CM differentiation in the low crosslink density hydrogels was not tissue specific but rather a result of favoured EB development and cell proliferation. Additionally, enhanced EB growth and differentiation in low crosslink density hydrogels was independent of RGD ligand density and not a consequence of enhanced diffusion. We also demonstrate that matrix metalloproteinase activity is required for spontaneous CM differentiation in 3D hydrogels. Low hydrogel crosslink density regulates spontaneous EB differentiation by promoting EB growth and development. Elucidating the effects of microenvironmental cues on cell differentiation can aid in the optimization of stem cell-based therapies for tissue regeneration.
In vivo studies have suggested that gradients of CXCL12 (aka stromal cell-derived factor 1α) may be a critical guidance cue for neural stem cell (NSC) migration during both brain development and neural tissue regeneration. However, traditional in vitro chemotaxis tools are typically limited by unstable concentration gradients and the inability to decouple cell migration directionality and speed. These limitations have restricted the reproducible and quantitative analysis of neuronal migration, which is a requirement for mechanism-based studies that may guide the development of new therapeutic strategies for neural regeneration. Using a microfluidic gradient generator, we quantified nestin and Sox-2 positive human embryonic NSC chemotaxis within a linear and stable CXCL12 gradient. While untreated NSCs were not able to chemotax within CXCL12 gradients, pre-treatment of the cells with brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) resulted in significant chemotactic, directional migration. BDNF pre-treatment had no effect on cell migration speed, which averaged about 1 μm min−1. Quantitative analysis determined that CXCL12 concentrations above 72 ng ml−1 (9.0 nM) are above the minimum activation threshold, while concentrations below 117 ng ml−1 (14.7 nM) are below the saturation threshold. Interestingly, although inhibitor studies with AMD 3100 revealed that CXCL12 chemotaxis requires receptor CXCR4 activation, BDNF pre-treatment was found to have no profound effects on the mRNA levels or surface presentation of CXCR4 or the putative CXCR7 scavenger receptor. The microfluidic study of NSC migration within stable chemokine concentration profiles provided quantitative analysis as well as new insight into the migratory mechanism underlying BDNF-induced chemotaxis towards CXCL12. These data will provide quantitative guidance in the development of new strategies to enhance the homing of endogenous and exogenous NSCs for clinical tissue regeneration therapies.
microfluidic gradient generator; neural stem cell; CXCL12; BDNF; chemotaxis
Besides its cooperating effects on stem cell proliferation and survival, Kit ligand (KL) is a potent chemotactic protein. While transwell assays permit studies of the frequency of migrating cells, the lack of direct visualization precludes dynamic chemotaxis studies. In response, we utilize microfluidic chambers that enable direct observation of murine bone marrow-derived mast cells (BMMC) within stable KL gradients. Using this system, individual Kit+ BMMC were quantitatively analyzed for migration speed and directionality during KL-induced chemotaxis. Our results indicated a minimum activating threshold of ~3 ng ml−1 for chemoattraction. Analysis of cells at KL concentrations below 3 ng ml−1 revealed a paradoxical chemorepulsion, which has not been described previously. Unlike chemoattraction, which occurred continuously after an initial time lag, chemorepulsion occurred only during the first 90 minutes of observation. Both chemoattraction and chemorepulsion required the action of G-protein coupled receptors (GPCR), as treatment with pertussis toxin abrogated directed migration. These results differ from previous studies of GPCR-mediated chemotaxis, where chemorepulsion occurred at high ligand concentrations. These data indicate that Kit-mediated chemotaxis is more complex than previously understood, with the involvement of GPCRs in addition to the Kit receptor tyrosine kinase and the presence of both chemoattractive and chemorepellent phases.
Improved retention of transplanted stem cells is achieved through minimally invasive delivery in MITCH, a Mixing-Induced Two-Component Hydrogel engineered to possess shear-thinning and self-healing thixotropic properties. MITCH, an ideal injectable cell-delivery vehicle, supports 3D stem cell culture, resulting in high cell viability and physiologically relevant cell morphology.
adipose-derived stem cells; cell injections; cell transplantations; hydrogels; protein engineering
The design of bioactive materials allows for tailored studies probing cell-biomaterial interactions; however, relatively few studies have examined effects of ligand density and material stiffness on neurite growth in 3D. Elastin-like proteins (ELPs) have been designed with modular bioactive and structural regions to enable the systematic characterization of design parameters within 3D materials. To promote neurite outgrowth and better understand the effects of common biomaterial design parameters on neuronal cultures, we here focused on cell-adhesive ligand density and hydrogel stiffness as design variables for ELP hydrogels. With the inherent design freedom of engineered proteins, these 3D ELP hydrogels enabled decoupled investigation into the effects of biomechanics and biochemistry on neurite outgrowth from dorsal root ganglia (DRG). Increasing the cell-adhesive RGD ligand density from 0 to 1.9 × 107 ligands/μm3 led to a significant increase in the rate, length, and density of neurite outgrowth, as quantified by a high-throughput algorithm developed for dense neurite analysis. An approximately two-fold improvement in total neurite outgrowth was observed in materials with the higher ligand density at all time-points through 7 days. ELP hydrogels with initial elastic moduli of 0.5, 1.5, or 2.1 kPa and identical RGD ligand densities revealed that the most compliant materials led to the greatest outgrowth, with some neurites extending over 1800 μm by day 7. Given the ability of ELP hydrogels to efficiently promote neurite outgrowth within defined and tunable 3D microenvironments, these materials may be useful in developing therapeutic nerve guides and the further study of basic neuron-biomaterial interactions.
Hydrogel; Neuron Neurite Stiffness; Three-dimensional; Engineered protein
Native tissues provide cells with complex, three dimensional (3D) environments comprised of hydrated networks of extracellular matrix proteins and sugars. By mimicking the dimensionality of native tissue while deconstructing the effects of environmental parameters, protein-based hydrogels serve as attractive, in vitro platforms to investigate cell-matrix interactions. For cell encapsulation, the process of hydrogel formation through physical or covalent crosslinking must be mild and cell compatible. While many chemical crosslinkers are commercially available for hydrogel formation, only a subset are cytocompatible; therefore, the identification of new and reliable cytocompatible crosslinkers allows for greater flexibility of hydrogel design for cell encapsulation applications. Here, we introduce tetrakis (hydroxymethyl) phosphonium chloride (THPC) as an inexpensive, amine-reactive, aqueous crosslinker for 3D cell encapsulation in protein-based hydrogels. We characterize the THPC-amine reaction by demonstrating its ability to react with primary and secondary amines of various amino acids. In addition, we demonstrate the utility of THPC to tune hydrogel gelation time (6.7 ± 0.2 to 27 ± 1.2 min) and mechanical properties (storage moduli ~250 Pa to ~2200 Pa) with a recombinant elastin-like protein. Lastly, we show cytocompatibility of THPC for cell encapsulation of two cell types, embryonic stem cells and neuronal cells, where cells exhibited the ability to differentiate and/or grow in elastin-like protein hydrogels.
Crosslinker; Hydrogel; Cell Encapsulation; Amine-reactive
biomaterials; micropatterning; skeletal muscle; tissue mimic; protein engineering
Systematically tunable in vitro platforms are invaluable in gaining insight to stem cell-microenvironment interactions in three-dimensional cultures. Utilizing recombinant protein technology, we independently tune hydrogel properties to systematically isolate the effects of matrix crosslinking density on cardiomyocyte differentiation, maturation, and function. We show that contracting human embryonic stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes (hESC-CMs) remain viable within four engineered elastin-like hydrogels of varying crosslinking densities with elastic moduli ranging from 0.45 to 2.4 kPa. Cardiomyocyte phenotype and function was maintained within hESC embryoid bodies for up to 2 weeks. Interestingly, increased crosslinking density was shown to transiently suspend spontaneous contractility. While encapsulated cells began spontaneous contractions at day 1 in hydrogels of the lowest crosslinking density, onset of contraction was increasingly delayed at higher crosslinking densities up to 6 days. However, once spontaneous contraction was restored, the rate of contraction was similar within all materials (71 ± 8 beats/min). Additionally, all groups successfully responded to electrical pacing at both 1 and 2 Hz. This study demonstrates that encapsulated hESC-CMs respond to 3D matrix crosslinking density within elastin-like hydrogels and stresses the importance of investigating temporal cellular responses in 3D cultures.
Photocrosslinkable, protein-engineered biomaterials combine a rapid, controllable, cytocompatible crosslinking method with a modular design strategy to create a new family of bioactive materials. These materials have a wide range of biomedical applications, including the development of bioactive implant coatings, drug delivery vehicles, and tissue engineering scaffolds. We present the successful functionalization of a bioactive elastin-like protein with photoreactive diazirine moieties. Scalable synthesis is achieved using a standard recombinant protein expression host followed by site-specific modification of lysine residues with a heterobifunctional N-hydroxysuccinimide ester-diazirine crosslinker. The resulting biomaterial is demonstrated to be processable by spin coating, drop casting, soft lithographic patterning, and mold casting to fabricate a variety of two- and three-dimensional photocrosslinked biomaterials with length scales spanning the nanometer to millimeter range. Protein thin films proved to be highly stable over a three-week period. Cell-adhesive functional domains incorporated into the engineered protein materials were shown to remain active post-photo-processing. Human adipose-derived stem cells achieved faster rates of cell adhesion and larger spread areas on thin films of the engineered protein compared to control substrates. The ease and scalability of material production, processing versatility, and modular bioactive functionality make this recombinantly engineered protein an ideal candidate for the development of novel biomaterial coatings, films, and scaffolds.
This study examined the homing capacity of human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived endothelial cells (iPSC-ECs) and their response to chemotactic gradients of stromal derived factor-1α (SDF). We have previously shown that EC derived from murine pluripotent stem cells can home to the ischemic hindlimb of the mouse. In the current study, we were interested to understand if ECs derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells are capable of homing. The homing capacity of iPSC-ECs was assessed after systemic delivery into immunodeficient mice with unilateral hindlimb ischemia. Furthermore, the iPSC-ECs were evaluated for their expression of CXCR4 and their ability to respond to SDF chemotactic gradients in vitro. Upon systemic delivery, the iPSC-ECs transiently localized to the lungs but did not home to the ischemic limb over the course of 14 days. To understand the mechanism of the lack of homing, the expression levels of the homing receptor, CXCR4, was examined at the transcriptional and protein levels. Furthermore, their ability to migrate in response to chemokines was assessed using microfluidic and scratch assays. Unlike ECs derived from syngeneic mouse pluripotent stem cells, human iPSC-ECs do not home to the ischemic mouse hindlimb. This lack of functional homing may represent an impairment of interspecies cellular communication or a difference in the differentiation state of the human iPSC-ECs. These results may have important implications in therapeutic delivery of iPSC-ECs.
Induced pluripotent stem cells; endothelial cells; CXCR4; SDF-1; homing; hindlimb ischemia
The native stem cell niche is a dynamic and complex microenvironment. Recapitulating this niche is a critical focus within the fields of stem cell biology, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine and requires the development of well-defined, tunable materials. Recent biomaterial design strategies seek to create engineered matrices that interact with cells at the molecular scale and allow on-demand, cell-triggered matrix modifications. Peptide and protein engineering can accomplish these goals through the molecular-level design of bioinductive and bioresponsive materials. This brief review focuses on engineered peptide and protein materials suitable for use as in vitro neural stem cell niche mimics and in vivo central nervous system repair. A key hallmark of these materials is the immense design freedom to specify the exact amino acid sequence leading to multi-functional bulk materials with tunable properties. These advanced materials are engineered using rational design strategies to recapitulate key aspects of the native neural stem cell niche. The resulting materials often combine the advantages of biological matrices with the engineering control of synthetic polymers. Future design strategies are expected to endow these materials with multiple layers of bi-directional feedback between the cell and the matrix, which will lead to more advanced mimics of the highly dynamic neural stem cell niche.
Engineered peptide; Engineered protein; Tissue engineering; Neural stem cell; Stem cell niche; Extracellular matrix
Predictable tuning of bulk mechanics from the molecular level remains elusive in many physical hydrogel systems due to the reliance on non-specific and non-stoichiometric chain interactions for network formation. We describe a Mixing-Induced Two-Component Hydrogel (MITCH) system, in which network assembly is driven by specific and stoichiometric peptide-peptide binding interactions. By integrating protein science methodologies with simple polymer physics model, we manipulate the polypeptide binding interactions and demonstrate the direct ability to predict the resulting effects on network crosslinking density, sol-gel phase behavior, and gel mechanics.
physical hydrogels; protein engineering; biomaterials
Traditional materials used as in vitro cell culture substrates are rigid and flat surfaces that lack the exquisite nano- and micro-scale features of the in vivo extracellular environment. While these surfaces can be coated with harvested extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins to partially recapitulate the bio-instructive nature of the ECM, these harvested proteins often exhibit large batch-to-batch variability and can be difficult to customize for specific biological studies. In contrast, recombinant protein technology can be utilized to synthesize families of protein-engineered biomaterials that are cyto-compatible, reproducible, and fully customizable.
Scope of Review
Here we describe a modular design strategy to synthesize protein-engineered biomaterials that fuse together multiple repeats of nanoscale peptide design motifs into full-length engineered ECM mimetics.
Due to the molecular-level precision of recombinant protein synthesis, these biomaterials can be tailored to include a variety of bio-instructional ligands at specified densities, to exhibit mechanical properties that match those of native tissue, and to include proteolytic target sites that enable cell-triggered scaffold remodeling. Furthermore, these biomaterials can be processed into forms that are injectable for minimally-invasive delivery or spatially patterned to enable the release of multiple drugs with distinct release kinetics.
Given the reproducibility and flexibility of these protein-engineered biomaterials, they are ideal substrates for reductionist biological studies of cell-matrix interactions, for in vitro models of physiological processes, and for bio-instructive scaffolds in regenerative medicine therapies.
biomaterial; protein engineering; stem cell niche; extracellular matrix; tissue engineering; regenerative medicine
Cell transplantation is a promising therapy for a myriad of debilitating diseases; however, current delivery protocols using direct injection result in poor cell viability. We demonstrate that during the actual cell injection process, mechanical membrane disruption results in significant acute loss of viability at clinically relevant injection rates. As a strategy to protect cells from these damaging forces, we hypothesize that cell encapsulation within hydrogels of specific mechanical properties will significantly improve viability. We use a controlled in vitro model of cell injection to demonstrate success of this acute protection strategy for a wide range of cell types including human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC), human adipose stem cells, rat mesenchymal stem cells, and mouse neural progenitor cells. Specifically, alginate hydrogels with plateau storage moduli (G′) ranging from 0.33 to 58.1 Pa were studied. A compliant crosslinked alginate hydrogel (G′=29.6 Pa) yielded the highest HUVEC viability, 88.9%±5.0%, while Newtonian solutions (i.e., buffer only) resulted in 58.7%±8.1% viability. Either increasing or decreasing the hydrogel storage modulus reduced this protective effect. Further, cells within noncrosslinked alginate solutions had viabilities lower than media alone, demonstrating that the protective effects are specifically a result of mechanical gelation and not the biochemistry of alginate. Experimental and theoretical data suggest that extensional flow at the entrance of the syringe needle is the main cause of acute cell death. These results provide mechanistic insight into the role of mechanical forces during cell delivery and support the use of protective hydrogels in future clinical stem cell injection studies.
A critical property of biomaterials for use in regenerative medicine applications is the ability to promote angiogenesis, the formation of new vascular networks, to support regenerating tissues. Recent studies have demonstrated that a complex interplay exists between biomechanical and biochemical regulators of endothelial cell sprouting, an early step in angiogenesis. Here, we use a microfluidic platform to study the pathfinding behaviors induced by various stable vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) gradients during sprouting morphogenesis within biomaterials. Quantitative, time-lapse analysis of endothelial sprouting demonstrated that the ability of VEGF to regulate sprout orientation during several stages of sprouting morphogenesis (initiation, elongation, and turning navigation) was biomaterial dependent. Identical VEGF gradients induced different types of coordinated cell movements depending on the density of the surrounding collagen/fibronectin matrix. In denser matrices, sprouts were more likely to have an initial orientation aligned parallel to the VEGF gradient. In contrast, in less dense matrices, sprouts were more likely to initially misalign with the VEGF gradient; however, these sprouts underwent significant turning and navigation to eventually reorient to be parallel to the VEGF gradient. These less dense matrices required shallower VEGF gradients and demonstrated lower activating VEGF thresholds to induce proper sprout alignment and pathfinding. These results encourage the future use of microfluidic platforms to probe fundamental aspects of matrix effects on angiogenesis, to screen biomaterials for angiogenic potential, and to design ex vivo tissues with aligned vascular networks.
The orphan G protein-coupled receptor GPR124/TEM5 is highly expressed in central nervous system (CNS) endothelium. Here, complete null or endothelial-specific GPR124 deletion produced embryonic lethality from CNS-specific angiogenesis arrest in forebrain and neural tube. Conversely, GPR124 overexpression throughout all adult vascular beds produced CNS-specific hyperproliferative vascular malformations. In vivo, GPR124 functioned cell-autonomously in endothelium to regulate sprouting, migration, and developmental expression of the blood-brain barrier marker Glut1, while in vitro, GPR124 mediated Cdc42-dependent directional migration to forebrain-derived, VEGF-independent cues. Our results demonstrate CNS-specific angiogenesis regulation by an endothelial receptor, and illuminate functions of the poorly understood adhesion GPCR subfamily. Further, the striking functional tropism of GPR124 marks this receptor as a therapeutic target for CNS-related vascular pathologies.
Optical observations of 100 nm metallic magnetic nanoparticles are used to study their magnetic field induced self assembly. Chains with lengths of tens of microns are observed to form within minutes at nanoparticle concentrations of 1010 per mL. Chain rotation and magnetophoresis are readily observed, and SEM reveals that long chains are not simple single particle filaments. Similar chains are detected for several 100 nm commercial bio-separation nanoparticles. We demonstrate the staged magnetic condensation of different types of nanoparticles into composite structures and show that magnetic chains bind to immunomagnetically labeled cells, serving as temporary handles which allow novel magnetic cell manipulations.
magnetic nanoparticles; nanoparticle characterization; biomedical applications; bimetallic nanoparticle; magnetic properties
The highly debilitating nature of spinal cord injuries has provided much inspiration for the design of novel biomaterials that can stimulate cellular regeneration and functional recovery. Many experts agree that the greatest hope for treatment of spinal cord injuries will involve a combinatorial approach that integrates biomaterial scaffolds, cell transplantation, and molecule delivery. This manuscript presents a comprehensive review of biomaterial-scaffold design strategies currently being applied to the development of nerve guidance channels and hydrogels that more effectively stimulate spinal cord tissue regeneration. To enhance the regenerative capacity of these two scaffold types, researchers are focusing on optimizing the mechanical properties, cell-adhesivity, biodegradability, electrical activity, and topography of synthetic and natural materials, and are developing mechanisms to use these scaffolds to deliver cells and biomolecules. Developing scaffolds that address several of these key design parameters will lead to more successful therapies for the regeneration of spinal cord tissue.
biomaterials; peripheral nerve injury; regeneration; spinal cord injury; therapeutic approaches for the treatment of CNS injury
Spatial patterning of proteins is a valuable technique for many biological applications and is the prevailing tool for defining microenvironments for cells in culture, a required procedure in developmental biology and tissue engineering research. However, it is still challenging to achieve protein patterns that closely mimic native microenvironments, such as gradient protein distributions with desirable mechanical properties. By combining projection dynamic mask lithography and protein engineering with non-canonical photosensitive amino acids, we demonstrate a simple, scalable strategy to fabricate any user-defined 2D or 3D stable gradient pattern with complex geometries from an artificial extracellular matrix (aECM) protein. We show that the elastic modulus and chemical nature of the gradient profile are biocompatible and allow useful applications in cell biological research.
Protein patterning; Protein lithography; Protein gradient; DMD (digital micromirror device); Protein engineering; Non-canonical amino acids
Neural prosthetic implants are currently being developed for the treatment and study of both peripheral and central nervous system disorders. Effective integration of these devices upon implantation is a critical hurdle to achieving function. As a result, much attention has been directed towards the development of biocompatible coatings that prolong their in vivo lifespan. In this work, we present a novel approach to fabricate such coatings, which specifically involves the use of surface-adsorbed, nanoscale-designed protein polymers to prepare reproducible, customized surfaces. A nanoscale modular design strategy was employed to synthesize six engineered, recombinant proteins intended to mimic aspects of the extracellular matrix proteins fibronectin, laminin, and elastin as well as the cell–cell adhesive protein neural cell adhesion molecule. Physical adsorption isotherms were experimentally determined for these engineered proteins, allowing for direct calculation of the available ligand density present on coated surfaces. As confirmation that ligand density in these engineered systems impacts neuronal cell behavior, we demonstrate that increasing the density of fibronectin-derived RGD ligands on coated surfaces while maintaining uniform protein surface coverage results in enhanced neurite extension of PC-12 cells. Therefore, this engineered protein adsorption approach allows for the facile preparation of tunable, quantifiable, and reproducible surfaces for in vitro studies of cell–ligand interactions and for potential application as coatings on neural implants.
biocompatible; protein; adsorption; coatings; implants; neural; elastin