Cell-controlled dynamic surfaces for skeletal stem cell growth and differentiation

May 31, 2022


Cell-controlled dynamic surfaces for skeletal stem cell growth and differentiation


Hilary J. Anderson, Jugal Kishore Sahoo, Julia Wells, Sebastiaan van Nuffel, Hala S. Dhowre, Richard O. C. Oreffo, Mischa Zelzer, Rein V. Ulijn & Matthew J. Dalby




Scientific Reports


Skeletal stem cells (SSCs, or mesenchymal stromal cells typically referred to as mesenchymal stem cells from the bone marrow) are a dynamic progenitor population that can enter quiescence, self-renew or differentiate depending on regenerative demand and cues from their niche environment. However, ex vivo, in culture, they are grown typically on hard polystyrene surfaces, and this leads to rapid loss of the SSC phenotype. While materials are being developed that can control SSC growth and differentiation, very few examples of dynamic interfaces that reflect the plastic nature of the stem cells have, to date, been developed. Achieving such interfaces is challenging because of competing needs: growing SSCs require lower cell adhesion and intracellular tension while differentiation to, for example, bone-forming osteoblasts requires increased adhesion and intracellular tension. We previously reported a dynamic interface where the cell adhesion tripeptide arginine-glycine-aspartic acid (RGD) was presented to the cells upon activation by user-added elastase that cleaved a bulky blocking group hiding RGD from the cells. This allowed for a growth phase while the blocking group was in place and the cells could only form smaller adhesions, followed by an osteoblast differentiation phase that was induced after elastase was added which triggered exposure of RGD and subsequent cell adhesion and contraction. Here, we aimed to develop an autonomous system where the surface is activated according to the need of the cell by using matrix metalloprotease (MMP) cleavable peptide sequences to remove the blocking group with the hypothesis that the SSCs would produce higher levels of MMP as the cells reached confluence. The current studies demonstrate that SSCs produce active MMP-2 that can cleave functional groups on a surface. We also demonstrate that SSCs can grow on the uncleaved surface and, with time, produce osteogenic marker proteins on the MMP-responsive surface. These studies demonstrate the concept for cell-controlled surfaces that can modulate adhesion and phenotype with significant implications for stem cell phenotype modulation.




Skeletal stem cell, SSCs, RGD