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  • Tuning Polymer Hydrophilicity to Regulate Gel Mechanics and Encapsulated Cell Morphology. Advanced healthcare materials Navarro, R. S., Huang, M. S., Roth, J. G., Hubka, K. M., Long, C. M., Enejder, A., Heilshorn, S. C. 2022: e2200011


    Mechanically tunable hydrogels are attractive platforms for three-dimensional cell culture, as hydrogel stiffness plays an important role in cell behavior. Traditionally, hydrogel stiffness has been controlled through altering either the polymer concentration or the stoichiometry between crosslinker reactive groups. Here, we present an alternative strategy based upon tuning the hydrophilicity of an elastin-like protein (ELP). ELPs undergo a phase transition that leads to protein aggregation at increasing temperatures. We hypothesize that increasing this transition temperature through bioconjugation with azide-containing molecules of increasing hydrophilicity will allow direct control of the resulting gel stiffness by making the crosslinking groups more accessible. These azide-modified ELPs are crosslinked into hydrogels with bicyclononyne-modified hyaluronic acid (HA-BCN) using bioorthogonal, click chemistry, resulting in hydrogels with tunable storage moduli (100-1000Pa). Human mesenchymal stromal cells, human umbilical vein endothelial cells, and human neural progenitor cells are all observed to alter their cell morphology when encapsulated within hydrogels of varying stiffness. Taken together, we demonstrate the use of protein hydrophilicity as a lever to tune hydrogel mechanical properties. These hydrogels have tunable moduli over a stiffness range relevant to soft tissues, support the viability of encapsulated cells, and modify cell spreading as a consequence of gel stiffness. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/adhm.202200011

    View details for PubMedID 35373510