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Keywords:

  • biomimetic material;
  • tissue engineering;
  • stem cells;
  • RGD peptide;
  • scaffold

Abstract

Poly(γ-glutamic acid) (γ-PGA) is a biocompatible, enzymatically-degradable, natural polymer with a higher resistance to hydrolysis than polyesters commonly used for tissue engineering scaffolds such as poly(L-lactide) (PLLA). Notably, γ-PGA's free carboxyl side groups allow for simple chemical functionalization, making it a versatile candidate for producing scaffolds. Here, a series of water-resistant fibrous scaffolds were engineered from ethyl (Et), propyl (Pr) and benzyl (Bn) esterifications of γ-PGA. All scaffolds were non-cytotoxic and γ-PGA-Bn showed an increase in cell adhesion of hMSCs compared to γ-PGA-Et and γ-PGA-Pr. Moreover, cells on γ-PGA-Bn showed three-fold higher viability at day 14 and significantly higher adhesion when compared with PLLA scaffolds, despite having a similar hydrophobicity. Cell attachment decreased by 40% when the polymer was only partially modified with benzyl groups (γ-PGA-Bn-77%), but was restored when integrin-binding RGD peptide was conjugated to the remaining free carboxylic groups, indicating the peptide was accessible and able to bind integrins. The mechanism behind the cell-material interactions on γ-PGA-Bn scaffolds was further investigated through protein adsorption and fibronectin conformation experiments. These results, in addition to the cell-adhesion studies, suggest an inherent effect of the benzyl modification in the mechanism of cell attachment to γ-PGA-Bn scaffolds. Finally, γ-PGA-Bn scaffolds cultured in osteogenic media were also efficient in supporting hMSCs differentiation towards an osteogenic lineage as determined by alkaline phosphatase and Runx2 gene expression. Taken together these data suggest that esterified γ-PGA polymer scaffolds are new and versatile candidates for tissue engineering applications and that, intriguingly, aromatic functionality plays a key role in the cell-scaffold interaction.