Engineered peptide modified hydrogel platform for propagation of human pluripotent stem cells

Acta Biomater. 2020 Sep 1;113:228-239. doi: 10.1016/j.actbio.2020.06.034. Epub 2020 Jun 27.


Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) have enormous potential to alleviate cell needs for regenerative medicine, however these cells require expansion in cell colonies to maintain cell-cell contact, thus limiting the scalability needed to meet the demands of cell therapy. While the use of a Rho-associated protein kinase (ROCK) inhibitor will allow for culture of single cell hPSCs, typically only 50% of cells are recovered after dissociation. When hPSCs lose cell-cell contact through E-cadherin, dissociation induced apoptosis occurs. In this study, we hypothesized that the extracellular E-cadherin domain of hPSCs will bind to synthetic E-cadherin peptides presented on a hydrogel substrate, mimicking the required cell-cell contact and thereby retaining single-cell viability and clonogenicity. Hence, the objective of this study was to functionalize alginate hydrogels with synthetic peptides mimicking E-cadherin and evaluate peptide performance in promoting cell attachment, viability, maintaining pluripotency, and differentiation potential. We observed that alginate conjugated with synthetic E-cadherin peptides not only supported initial cell attachment with high viability, but also supported hPSC propagation and high fold expansion. hPSCs propagated on the peptide modified substrates maintained the hPSC characteristic pluripotency and differentiation potential, characterized by both spontaneous and directed differentiation. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) have enormous potential to alleviate cell needs for regenerative medicine and cell therapy. However, scalable culture of hPSCs is challenged by its need for maintenance of cell-cell contact, dissociation of which triggers the apoptotic pathway. Hence hPSCs are commonly maintained as colonies over Matrigel coated culture plates. Furthermore, use of xenogenic and undefined Matrigel compromises the translational potential of hPSCs. In this work we have developed a completely defined substrate to enable adherent culture of hPSCs as single cells. This substrate prevents apoptosis of the single cells and allows significant fold expansion of hPSCs while maintaining pluripotency and differentiation potential. The developed substrate is expected to be a cost-effective and translatable alternative to Matrigel.

Keywords: E-cadherin; Hydrogel; Peptide conjugation; hPSC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Culture Techniques*
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogels
  • Peptides* / pharmacology
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells*


  • Hydrogels
  • Peptides