Engineered 3D neuronal networks are considered a promising approach for repairing the damaged spinal cord. However, the lack of a technological platform encouraging axonal elongation over branching may jeopardize the success of such treatment. To address this issue we have decorated gold nanoparticles on the surface of electrospun nanofiber scaffolds, characterized the composite material, and investigated their effect on the differentiation, maturation, and morphogenesis of primary neurons and on an immature neuronal cell line. We have shown that the nanocomposite scaffolds have encouraged a longer outgrowth of the neurites, as judged by the total length of the branching trees and the length and total distance of neurites. Moreover, neurons grown on the nanocomposite scaffolds had less neurites originating out of the soma and lower number of branches. Taken together, these results indicate that neurons cultivated on the gold nanoparticle scaffolds prefer axonal elongation over forming complex branching trees. We envision that such cellular constructs may be useful in the future as implantable cellular devices for repairing damaged neuronal tissues, such as the spinal cord.
Keywords: Axonal elongation; gold nanoparticles; nanocomposite scaffold; neuronal tissue engineering.