Engineering the Dynamics of Cell Adhesion Cues in Supramolecular Hydrogels for Facile Control over Cell Encapsulation and Behavior

Mani Diba, Sergio Spaans, Simone I. S. Hendrikse, Maartje M. C. Bastings, Maaike J. G. Schotman, Johnick F. van Sprang, Dan Jing Wu, Freek J. M. Hoeben, Henk M. Janssen, Patricia Y. W. Dankers

Published: 2021


The extracellular matrix (ECM) forms through hierarchical assembly of small and larger polymeric molecules into a transient, hydrogel-like fibrous network that provides mechanical support and biochemical cues to cells. Synthetic, fibrous supramolecular networks formed via non-covalent assembly of various molecules are therefore potential candidates as synthetic mimics of the natural ECM, provided that functionalization with biochemical cues is effective. Here, combinations of slow and fast exchanging molecules that self-assemble into supramolecular fibers are employed to form transient hydrogel networks with tunable dynamic behavior. Obtained results prove that modulating the ratio between these molecules dictates the extent of dynamic behavior of the hydrogels at both the molecular and the network level, which is proposed to enable effective incorporation of cell-adhesive functionalities in these materials. Excitingly, the dynamic nature of the supramolecular components in this system can be conveniently employed to formulate multicomponent supramolecular hydrogels for easy culturing and encapsulation of single cells, spheroids, and organoids. Importantly, these findings highlight the significance of molecular design and exchange dynamics for the application of supramolecular hydrogels as synthetic ECM mimics.

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