(256ak) Morphogen Presentation within Micro-Fiber/Collagen Composites for Ligament Tissue Engineering

Authors: 
Goldstein, A. S., Virginia Tech
Thayer, P., Virginia Tech
Dahlgren, L. A., Virginia/Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine

Figure 1: (a) a model composite (i) micro-fibers, (ii) acellular collagen, (iii) cellularized collagen, (iv) PDMS for support. (b) Confocal microscope image of MSCs in composites. Micro-fibers are green, cell nuclei are blue, and cell actin cytoskeletons are red. (c) Expression of scleraxis, tenomodulin, and collagen I after 7 days of culture in composites.
" src="https://www.aiche.org/sites/default/files/aiche-proceedings/conferences/..." height="588" hspace="12" class="documentimage">Tissue engineering holds promise in
overcoming the limitations of existing autologous and allogeneic options. However,
central to the realization of this goal is the achievement of instructive
biomaterial scaffold materials that can guide the recruitment, proliferation, and
differentiation of stem cells into organized functional tissues. In particular,
we hypothesize that scaffolds that present anisotropic topographical and mechanical
properties, as well as morphogenic signals are essential for guiding stem cell
fate.  To this end, we have developed model electrospun micro-fiber/collagen hydrogel
composites – consisting of thin oriented micro-fiber meshes between collagen slabs
(Figure 1a) – that allow us to selectively tune the mechanical, biochemical
properties of both the fiber and hydrogel phases and assess their effects on
stem cell proliferation and differentiation.  For the goal of ligament tissue
engineering, we have previously shown that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) attach
to and align with the oriented micro-fibers (Figure 1b).  Further, we
found that systematic variation of the micro-fiber modulus affects mRNA
expression of the tendon/ligament transcription factor scleraxis and the
contractile protein α-smooth muscle actin (not shown).  Currently, we are extending
this work to determine the effect of tethering the morphogens (i.e., fibroblast
growth factor (FGF)-2 and growth and differentiation factor (GDF)-5) to the
micro-fibers.

To
accomplish this, we are electrospinning thin (5-10 μm) aligned meshes of coaxial
micro-fibers (~1 μm in diameter) consisting of a chitosan sheath phase and
a polyurethane/polycaprolactone blend core phase on a rotating mandrel. The
meshes are transferred to PDMS rings and functionalized with a mixture of FGF-2
and GDF-5 through covalent bioconjugation, ionic adsorption (to heparin-coated micro-fibers),
or simple physisorption (to untreated micro-fibers).  Resultant bioactive fiber
meshes (1.2 cm diameter) are embedded within 0.5 wt% collagen gels containing 5×104
MSCs and cultured for up to 7 days and compared to samples without morphogens.  Preliminary
data shows that covalent bioconjugation results in enhanced expression of ligament
markers scleraxis and tenomodulin (Figure 1c).  In contrast, the incorporation of morphogens
onto heparin-coated and uncoated micro-fibers does not enhance expression,
perhaps due to denaturation of the proteins during adsorption or subsequent desorption
and loss of the proteins from the micro-fiber surfaces.  Concurrently, we are
examining adsorption and desorption of morphogens from planar chitosan films.  Initial
data indicate covalent bioconjugation of FGF-2 from a 250 ng/mL solution
results in a surface concentration of 58 ng/cm2 with negligible
protein loss over 7 days.  In contrast adsorption of FGF-2 to chitosan and
heparin-coated chitosan surfaces results in surface concentrations of 182 and
137 ng/cm2, respectively.

Our
results suggest that the covalent bioconjugation of morphogens onto the
micro-fiber surfaces can have a strong positive effect on stem cell fate.  We postulate
that the enhanced expression of ligament markers (Figure 1c) is due the localization
of morphogen/receptor complexes within or near focal adhesion complexes.  This
co-localization may mimic the native ECM, by supporting cell adhesion,
migration, and guide behavior due to integrin association with both growth
factors and adhesive proteins.  Ultimately, our goal is to develop thick multilayered
composites suitable for implantation, where the bioactive micro-fibers present
a multitude of stimuli to recruit host cells and guide tissue formation in vivo.