Bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP-2) is a potent osteoinductive cytokine that plays a critical role during bone regeneration and repair. In the extracellular environment, sulfated polysaccharides anchored covalently to glycoproteins such as syndecan and also non-covalently to fibronectin fibers have been shown to bind BMP-2 through a heparin-binding domain and regulate its bioactivity. We report here on a synthetic biomimetic strategy that emulates biological BMP-2 signaling through the use of peptide amphiphile nanofibers designed to bind heparin. The supramolecular nanofibers, which integrate the biological role of syndecan and fibronectin, were allowed to form gel networks within the pores of an absorbable collagen scaffold by simply infiltrating dilute solutions of the peptide amphiphile, heparan sulfate, and BMP-2. The hybrid biomaterial enhanced significantly bone regeneration in a rat critical-size femoral defect model using BMP-2 amounts that are one order of magnitude lower than required for healing in this animal model. Using micro-computed tomography, we also showed that the hybrid scaffold was more effective at bridging within the gap relative to a conventional scaffold of the type used clinically based on collagen and BMP-2. Histological evaluation also revealed the presence of more mature bone in the new ossified tissue when the low dose of BMP-2 was delivered using the biomimetic supramolecular system. These results demonstrate how molecularly designed materials that mimic features of the extracellular environment can amplify the regenerative capacity of growth factors.
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