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Evaluating poly(Acrylamide-co-Acrylic Acid) hydrogels stress relaxation to direct the osteogenic differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells

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The aim of this study is to investigate polyacrylamide-based hydrogels stress relaxation and the subsequent impact on the osteogenic differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs). Different hydrogels are synthesized by varying the amount of cross-linker and the ratio between the monomers (acrylamide and acrylic acid), and characterized by compression tests. It has been found that hydrogels containing 18% of acrylic acid exhibit an average relaxation of 70%, while pure polyacrylamide gels show an average relaxation of 15%. Subsequently, hMSCs are cultured on two different hydrogels functionalized with a mimetic peptide of the bone morphogenetic protein-2 to enable cell adhesion and favor their osteogenic differentiation. Phalloidin staining shows that for a constant stiffness of 55 kPa, a hydrogel with a low relaxation (15%) leads to star-shaped cells, which is typical of osteocytes, while a hydrogel with a high relaxation (70%) presents cells with a polygonal shape characteristic of osteoblasts. Immunofluorescence labeling of E11, strongly expressed in early osteocytes, also shows a dramatically higher expression for cells cultured on the hydrogel with low relaxation (15%). These results clearly demonstrate that, by fine-tuning hydrogels stress relaxation, hMSCs differentiation can be directed toward osteoblasts, and even osteocytes, which is particularly rare in vitro.



Macromolecular bioscience, Vol. 21 (6), e2100069 (2021)



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Bone morphogenetic protein-2 surface functionalization, Human mesenchymal stem cells, Osteocytes, Osteogenic differentiation, Poly(acrylamide-co-acrylic acid) hydrogels, Stress relaxation


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