Three-dimensional (3D) microperiodic scaffolds of poly(2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) (pHEMA) have been fabricated by direct-write assembly of a photopolymerizable hydrogel ink. The ink is initially composed of physically entangled pHEMA chains dissolved in a solution of HEMA monomer, comonomer, photoinitiator and water. Upon printing 3D scaffolds of varying architecture, the ink filaments are exposed to UV light, where they are transformed into an interpenetrating hydrogel network of chemically cross-linked and physically entangled pHEMA chains. These 3D microperiodic scaffolds are rendered growth compliant for primary rat hippocampal neurons by absorption of polylysine. Neuronal cells thrive on these scaffolds, forming differentiated, intricately branched networks. Confocal laser scanning microscopy reveals that both cell distribution and extent of neuronal process alignment depend upon scaffold architecture. This work provides an important step forward in the creation of suitable platforms for in vitro study of sensitive cell types.
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