Developing functionalized biomaterials for enhancing transplanted cell engraftment in vivo and stimulating the regeneration of injured tissues requires a multi-disciplinary approach customized for the tissue to be regenerated. In particular, nervous tissue engineering may take a great advantage from the discovery of novel functional motifs fostering transplanted stem cell engraftment and nervous fiber regeneration. Using phage display technology we have discovered new peptide sequences that bind to murine neural stem cell (NSC)-derived neural precursor cells (NPCs), and promote their viability and differentiation in vitro when linked to LDLK12 self-assembling peptide (SAPeptide). We characterized the newly functionalized LDLK12 SAPeptides via atomic force microscopy, circular dichroism and rheology, obtaining nanostructured hydrogels that support human and murine NSC proliferation and differentiation in vitro. One functionalized SAPeptide (Ac-FAQ), showing the highest stem cell viability and neural differentiation in vitro, was finally tested in acute contusive spinal cord injury in rats, where it fostered nervous tissue regrowth and improved locomotor recovery. Interestingly, animals treated with the non-functionalized LDLK12 had an axon sprouting/regeneration intermediate between Ac-FAQ-treated animals and controls. These results suggest that hydrogels functionalized with phage-derived peptides may constitute promising biomimetic scaffolds for in vitro NSC differentiation, as well as regenerative therapy of the injured nervous system. Moreover, this multi-disciplinary approach can be used to customize SAPeptides for other specific tissue engineering applications.
This journal is © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2012