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Determining How Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells Change Their Degradation Strategy in Response to Microenvironmental Stiffness

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journal contribution
posted on 06.07.2020, 13:04 by Maryam Daviran, Jenna Catalano, Kelly M. Schultz
During the wound healing process, human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) are recruited to the injury where they regulate inflammation and initiate healing and tissue regeneration. To aid in healing, synthetic cell-laden hydrogel scaffolds are being designed to deliver additional hMSCs to wounds to enhance or restart the healing process. These scaffolds are being designed to mimic native tissue environments, which include physical cues, such as scaffold stiffness. In this work, we focus on how the initial scaffold stiffness hMSCs are encapsulated in changes cell-mediated remodeling and degradation and motility. To do this, we encapsulate hMSCs in a well-defined synthetic hydrogel scaffold that recapitulates aspects of the native extracellular matrix (ECM). We then characterize cell-mediated degradation in the pericellular region as a function of initial microenvironmental stiffness. Our hydrogel consists of a 4-arm poly­(ethylene glycol) (PEG) end-functionalized with norbornene which is chemically cross-linked with a matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) degradable peptide sequence. This peptide sequence is cleaved by hMSC-secreted MMPs. The hydrogel elastic modulus is varied from 80 to 2400 Pa by changing the concentration of the peptide cross-linker. We use multiple particle tracking microrheology (MPT) to characterize the spatiotemporal cell-mediated degradation in the pericellular region. In MPT, fluorescently labeled particles are embedded in the material, and their Brownian motion is measured. We measure an increase in cell-mediated degradation and remodeling as the post-encapsulation time increases. MPT also measures changes in the degradation profile in the pericellular region as hydrogel stiffness is increased. We hypothesize that the change in the degradation profile is due to a change in the amount and type of molecules secreted by hMSCs. We also measure a significant decrease in cell speed as hydrogel stiffness increases due to the increased physical barrier that needs to be degraded to enable motility. These measurements increase our understanding of the rheological changes in the pericellular region in different physical microenvironments which could lead to better design of implantable biomaterials for cell delivery to wounded areas.