Extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins are structural elements of tissue and also potent signaling molecules. Previously, our laboratory showed that ECM of 2D coatings can trigger differentiation of bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) into mesodermal lineages in an ECM-specific manner over 14 days, in some cases comparable to chemical induction. To test whether a similar effect was possible in a 3D, tissue-like environment, we designed a synthetic-natural biomaterial composite. The composite can present whole-molecule ECM proteins to cells, even those that do not spontaneously form hydrogels ex vivo, in 3D. To this end, we entrapped collagen type I, laminin-111, or fibronectin in ECM composites with MSCs and directly compared markers of mesodermal differentiation including cardiomyogenic (ACTC1), osteogenic (SPP1), adipogenic (PPARG), and chondrogenic (SOX9) in 2D versus 3D. We found the 3D condition largely mimicked the 2D condition such that the addition of type I collagen was the most potent inducer of differentiation to all lineages tested. One notable difference between 2D and 3D was pronounced adipogenic differentiation in 3D especially in the presence of exogenous collagen type I. In particular, PPARG gene expression was significantly increased ∼16-fold relative to chemical induction, in 3D and not in 2D. Unexpectedly, 3D engagement of ECM proteins also altered immunomodulatory function of MSCs in that expression of IL-6 gene was elevated relative to basal levels in 2D. In fact, levels of IL-6 gene expression in 3D composites containing exogenously supplied collagen type I or fibronectin were statistically similar to levels attained in 2D with tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) stimulation and these levels were sustained over a 2-week period. Thus, this novel biomaterial platform allowed us to compare the biochemical impact of whole-molecule ECM proteins in 2D versus 3D indicating enhanced adipogenic differentiation and IL-6 expression of MSC in the 3D context. Exploiting the biochemical impact of ECM proteins on MSC differentiation and immunomodulation could augment the therapeutic utility of MSCs.
- extracellular matrix
- stem cells