Functional biomaterials that are able to bind, stabilize and release bioactive proteins in a defined manner are required for the controlled delivery of such to the desired place of action, stimulating wound healing in health-compromised patients. Glycosaminoglycans (GAG) represent a very promising group of components since they may be functionally engineered and are well tolerated by the recipient tissues due to their relative immunological inertness. Ligands of the Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) receptor (EGFR) activate keratinocytes and dermal fibroblasts and, thus, contribute to skin wound healing. Heparin-binding EGF-like growth factor (HB-EGF) bound to GAG in biomaterials (e.g. hydrogels) might serve as a reservoir that induces prolonged activation of the EGF receptor and to recover disturbed wound healing. Based on previous findings, the capacity of hyaluronan (HA) and its sulfated derivatives (sHA) to bind and release HB-EGF from HA/collagen-based hydrogels was investigated. Docking and molecular dynamics analysis of a molecular model of HB-EGF led to the identification of residues in the heparin-binding domain of the protein being essential for the recognition of GAG derivatives. Furthermore, molecular modeling and surface plasmon resonance (SPR) analyses demonstrated that sulfation of HA increases binding strength to HB-EGF thus providing a rationale for the development of sHA-containing hydrogels. In line with computational observations and in agreement with SPR results, gels containing sHA displayed a retarded HB-EGF release in vitro compared to pure HA/collagen gels. Hydrogels containing HA and collagen or a mixture with sHA were shown to bind and release bioactive HB-EGF over at least 72 h, which induced keratinocyte migration, EGFR-signaling and HGF expression in dermal fibroblasts. Importantly, hydrogels containing sHA strongly increased the effectivity of HB-EGF in inducing epithelial tip growth in epithelial wounds shown in a porcine skin organ culture model. These findings suggest that hydrogels containing HA and sHA can be engineered for smart and effective wound dressings. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Immobilization and sustained release of recombinant proteins from functional biomaterials might overcome the limited success of direct application of non-protected solute growth factors during the treatment of impaired wound healing. We developed HA/collagen-based hydrogels supplemented with acrylated sulfated HA for binding and release of HB-EGF. We analyzed the molecular basis of HB-EGF interaction with HA and its chemical derivatives by in silico modeling and surface plasmon resonance. These hydrogels bind HB-EGF reversibly. Using different in vitro assays and organ culture we demonstrate that the introduction of sulfated HA into the hydrogels significantly increases the effectivity of HB-EGF action on target cells. Therefore, sulfated HA-containing hydrogels are promising functional biomaterials for the development of mediator releasing wound dressings.
Keywords: Biomimetic material; Extracellular matrix (ECM); Fibroblasts; Heparin-binding epidermal growth factor-like growth factor (HB-EGF); Hyaluronan; Hydrogel; Sulfated hyaluronan; Surface plasmon resonance; Wound healing.
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