Fibrotic disorders account for over one third of mortalities worldwide. Despite great efforts to study the cellular and molecular processes underlying fibrosis, there are currently few effective therapies. Dual-stage polymerization reactions are an innovative tool for recreating heterogeneous increases in extracellular matrix (ECM) modulus, a hallmark of fibrotic diseases in vivo. Here, we present a clickable decellularized ECM (dECM) crosslinker incorporated into a dynamically responsive poly(ethylene glycol)-α-methacrylate (PEGαMA) hybrid-hydrogel to recreate ECM remodeling in vitro. An off-stoichiometry thiol-ene Michael addition between PEGαMA (8-arm, 10 kg mol-1) and the clickable dECM resulted in hydrogels with an elastic modulus of E = 3.6 ± 0.24 kPa, approximating healthy lung tissue (1-5 kPa). Next, residual αMA groups were reacted via a photo-initiated homopolymerization to increase modulus values to fibrotic levels (E = 13.4 ± 0.82 kPa) in situ. Hydrogels with increased elastic moduli, mimicking fibrotic ECM, induced a significant increase in the expression of myofibroblast transgenes. The proportion of primary fibroblasts from dual-reporter mouse lungs expressing collagen 1a1 and alpha-smooth muscle actin increased by approximately 60% when cultured on stiff and dynamically stiffened hybrid-hydrogels compared to soft. Likewise, fibroblasts expressed significantly increased levels of the collagen 1a1 transgene on stiff regions of spatially patterned hybrid-hydrogels compared to the soft areas. Collectively, these results indicate that hybrid-hydrogels are a new tool that can be implemented to spatiotemporally induce a phenotypic transition in primary murine fibroblasts in vitro.
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- Cell and Molecular Biology