Human mesenchymal stem cells cultured on silk hydrogels with variable stiffness and growth factor differentiate into mature smooth muscle cell phenotype
Cell-matrix and cell-biomolecule interactions play critical roles in a diversity of biological events including cell adhesion, growth, differentiation, and apoptosis. Evidence suggests that a concise crosstalk of these environmental factors may be required to direct stem cell differentiation toward matured cell type and function. However, the culmination of these complex interactions to direct stem cells into highly specific phenotypes in vitro is still widely unknown, particularly in the context of implantable biomaterials. In this study, we utilized tunable hydrogels based on a simple high pressure CO2 method and silk fibroin (SF) the structural protein of Bombyx mori silk fibers. Modification of SF protein starting water solution concentration results in hydrogels of variable stiffness while retaining key structural parameters such as matrix pore size and β-sheet crystallinity. To further resolve the complex crosstalk of chemical signals with matrix properties, we chose to investigate the role of 3D hydrogel stiffness and transforming growth factor (TGF-β1), with the aim of correlating the effects on the vascular commitment of human mesenchymal stem cells. Our data revealed the potential to upregulate matured vascular smooth muscle cell phenotype (myosin heavy chain expression) of hMSCs by employing appropriate matrix stiffness and growth factor (within 72 h). Overall, our observations suggest that chemical and physical stimuli within the cellular microenvironment are tightly coupled systems involved in the fate decisions of hMSCs. The production of tunable scaffold materials that are biocompatible and further specialized to mimic tissue-specific niche environments will be of considerable value to future tissue engineering platforms.Statement of SignificanceThis article investigates the role of silk fibroin hydrogel stiffness and transforming growth factor (TGF-β1), with the aim of correlating the effects on the vascular commitment of human mesenchymal stem cells. Specifically, we demonstrate the upregulation of mature vascular smooth muscle cell phenotype (myosin heavy chain expression) of hMSCs by employing appropriate matrix stiffness and growth factor (within 72 h). Moreover, we demonstrate the potential to direct specialized hMSC differentiation by modulating stiffness and growth factor using silk fibroin, a well-tolerated and -defined biomaterial with an impressive portfolio of tissue engineering applications. Altogether, our study reinforce the fact that complex differentiation protocols may be simplified by engineering the cellular microenvironment on multiple scales, i.e. matrix stiffness with growth factor.
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Journal: Acta Biomaterialia - Volume 31, February 2016, Pages 156–166