Linqing Li, Megan E. Griebel, Marina Uroz, Saniya Yesmin Bubli, Keith A. Gagnon, Britta Trappmann, Brendon M. Baker, Jeroen Eyckmans, Christopher S. Chen

A Protein‐Adsorbent Hydrogel with Tunable Stiffness for Tissue Culture Demonstrates Matrix‐Dependent Stiffness Responses

  • Electrochemistry
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Biomaterials
  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials

AbstractAlthough tissue culture plastic has been widely employed for cell culture, the rigidity of plastic is not physiologic. Softer hydrogels used to culture cells have not been widely adopted in part because coupling chemistries are required to covalently capture extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins and support cell adhesion. To create an in vitro system with tunable stiffnesses that readily adsorbs ECM proteins for cell culture, a novel hydrophobic hydrogel system is presented via chemically converting hydroxyl residues on the dextran backbone to methacrylate groups, thereby transforming non‐protein adhesive, hydrophilic dextran to highly protein adsorbent substrates. Increasing methacrylate functionality increases the hydrophobicity in the resulting hydrogels and enhances ECM protein adsorption without additional chemical reactions. These hydrophobic hydrogels permit facile and tunable modulation of substrate stiffness independent of hydrophobicity or ECM coatings. Using this approach, it is shown that substrate stiffness and ECM adsorption work together to affect cell morphology and proliferation, but the strengths of these effects vary in different cell types. Furthermore, it is revealed that stiffness‐mediated differentiation of dermal fibroblasts into myofibroblasts is modulated by the substrate ECM. The material system demonstrates remarkable simplicity and flexibility to tune ECM coatings and substrate stiffness and study their effects on cell function.

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