We have presently evaluated membranes prepared from Bombyx mori silk fibroin (BMSF), for their potential use as a prosthetic Bruch's membrane and carrier substrate for human retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cell transplantation. Porous BMSF membranes measuring 3 μm in thickness were prepared from aqueous solutions (3% w/v) containing poly(ethylene oxide) (0.09%). The permeability coefficient for membranes was between 3 and 9 × 10(-5) cm/s by using Allura red or 70 kDa FITC-dextran respectively. Average pore size (±sd) was 4.9 ± 2.3 μm and 2.9 ± 1.5 μm for upper and lower membrane surfaces respectively. Optimal attachment of ARPE-19 cells to BMSF membrane was achieved by pre-coating with vitronectin (1 μg/mL). ARPE-19 cultures maintained in low serum on BMSF membranes for approximately 8 weeks, developed a cobble-stoned morphology accompanied by a cortical distribution of F-actin and ZO-1. Similar results were obtained using primary cultures of human RPE cells, but cultures took noticeably longer to establish on BMSF compared with tissue culture plastic. These findings encourage further studies of BMSF as a substrate for RPE cell transplantation.
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