Central nerve repair and regeneration remain challenging problems worldwide, largely because of the extremely weak inherent regenerative capacity and accompanying fibrosis of native nerves. Inadequate solutions to the unmet needs for clinical therapeutics encourage the development of novel strategies to promote nerve regeneration. Recently, 3D bioprinting techniques, as one of a set of valuable tissue engineering technologies, have shown great promise toward fabricating complex and customizable artificial tissue scaffolds. Gelatin methacrylate (GelMA) possesses excellent biocompatible and biodegradable properties because it contains many arginine-glycine-aspartic acids (RGD) and matrix metalloproteinase sequences. Dopamine (DA), as an essential neurotransmitter, has proven effective in regulating neuronal development and enhancing neurite outgrowth. In this study, GelMA-DA neural scaffolds with hierarchical structures were 3D-fabricated using our custom-designed stereolithography-based printer. DA was functionalized on GelMA to synthesize a biocompatible printable ink (GelMA-DA) for improving neural differentiation. Additionally, neural stem cells (NSCs) were employed as the primary cell source for these scaffolds because of their ability to terminally differentiate into a variety of cell types including neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes. The resultant GelMA-DA scaffolds exhibited a highly porous and interconnected 3D environment, which is favorable for supporting NSC growth. Confocal microscopy analysis of neural differentiation demonstrated that a distinct neural network was formed on the GelMA-DA scaffolds. In particular, the most significant improvements were the enhanced neuron gene expression of TUJ1 and MAP2. Overall, our results demonstrated that 3D-printed customizable GelMA-DA scaffolds have a positive role in promoting neural differentiation, which is promising for advancing nerve repair and regeneration in the future.
Keywords: 3D bioprinting; dopamine; gelatin methacrylate; neural stem cells; neural tissue engineering.