Poly(ε-caprolactone)-Banded Spherulites and Interaction with MC3T3-E1 Cells

We report that protein adsorption, cell attachment, and cell proliferation were enhanced on spherulites-roughened polymer surfaces. Banded spherulites with concentric alternating succession of ridges and valleys were observed on spin-coated thin films of poly­(ε-caprolactone) (PCL) and two series of PCL binary homoblends composed of high- and low-molecular-weight components when they were isothermally crystallized at 25–52 °C. Their thermal properties, crystallization kinetics, and surface morphology were examined. The melting temperature (<i>T</i><sub>m</sub>), crystallinity (χ<sub>c</sub>), crystallization rate, and spherulitic patterns showed strong dependence on the crystallization temperature (<i>T</i><sub>c</sub>) and the blend composition. The surface roughness of the spherulites was higher when <i>T</i><sub>c</sub> was higher; thus, the larger surface area formed in banded spherulites could adsorb more serum proteins from cell culture media. In vitro mouse preosteoblastic MC3T3-E1 cell attachment, proliferation, and nuclear localization were assessed on the hot-compressed flat disks and spherulites-roughened films of the high-molecular-weight PCL and one of its homoblends. The number of attached MC3T3-E1 cells and the proliferation rate were greater on the rougher surfaces than those on the flat ones. It is interesting to note that cell nuclei were preferentially, though not absolutely, located in or close to the valleys of the banded spherulites. The percentage of cell nuclei in the valleys was higher than 78% when the ridge height and adjacent ridge distance were ∼350 and ∼35 nm, respectively. This preference was weaker when the ridge height was lower or at a higher cell density. These results suggest that isothermal crystallization of semicrystalline polymers can be an effective thermal treatment method to achieve controllable surface roughness and pattern for regulating cell behaviors in tissue-engineering applications.