Engineering hepatocellular morphogenesis and function via ligand-presenting hydrogels with graded mechanical compliance

Authors

  • Eric J. Semler,

    1. Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, Rutgers University, 98 Brett Road, Piscataway, NJ 08854; telephone: 732-445-4951; fax: 732-445-2581
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  • Perry A. Lancin,

    1. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Rutgers University, 617 Bowser Road, Piscataway, NJ 08854
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  • Anouska Dasgupta,

    1. Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, Rutgers University, 98 Brett Road, Piscataway, NJ 08854; telephone: 732-445-4951; fax: 732-445-2581
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  • Prabhas V. Moghe

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, Rutgers University, 98 Brett Road, Piscataway, NJ 08854; telephone: 732-445-4951; fax: 732-445-2581
    2. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Rutgers University, 617 Bowser Road, Piscataway, NJ 08854
    • Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, Rutgers University, 98 Brett Road, Piscataway, NJ 08854; telephone: 732-445-4951; fax: 732-445-2581
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Abstract

In order to evaluate the sensitivity of hepatocellular cultures to variations in both substrate stiffness and bioactive ligand presentation, hepatocytes were cultured on differentially compliant polyacrylamide gel discs functionalized with varying amounts of the ECM ligand, fibronectin (FN). Subconfluent cell cultures were established in a multiwell plate format enabling the systematic evaluation of cellular response to both underlying substrate rigidity and substrate ligand concentration. Hepatocellular morphogenesis, regulated by a combination of both ligand density and substrate compliance, resulted in a broad spectrum of patterns of cellular reorganization and assembly ranging from highly two-dimensionally spread cells to highly compact, three-dimensional spheroids. Cell compaction was promoted by increasing levels of substrate mechanical compliance and generally inhibited by increasing concentrations of substrate-bound FN. We identified regimes of substrate compliance in which cells are highly responsive or relatively insensitive to the level of substrate-based ligands. For example, while FN presentation did not have a large impact on cell morphogenesis for cultures on highly compliant gels (G′ = 1.9 kPa), hepatocytes on “firm” substrates of intermediate compliance (G′ = 5.6 kPa) exhibited approximately a 2-fold increase in cell area between the highest and lowest FN concentrations used in this study. Further, we show that increasing substrate compliance at constant ligand concentration results in increased levels of liver-specific albumin secretion while increasing levels of FN at constant substrate rigidity yield reduced liver-specific functional activity. These substrate-elicited differences in cell function also coincided with analogous changes in the transcript levels of metabolic, growth-related, and liver-specific gene markers. Notably, these results also demonstrated that “firm” gel substrates elicit the most hepatocyte functional sensitivity to substrate-based FN presentation. Overall, our findings indicate that hepatocellular responsiveness to ligand concentration can be acutely regulated by gradation of substrate compliance, suggesting that concerted biochemical and biophysical design strategies may be critical toward the fabrication of hepatospecific biomaterials that effectively support desired levels of liver-specific function. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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