Fibroblasts upregulate expression of adhesion molecules and promote lymphocyte retention in 3D fibroin/gelatin scaffolds

Bioact Mater. 2021 Mar 21;6(10):3449-3460. doi: 10.1016/j.bioactmat.2021.03.016. eCollection 2021 Oct.


Bioengineered scaffolds are crucial components in artificial tissue construction. In general, these scaffolds provide inert three-dimensional (3D) surfaces supporting cell growth. However, some scaffolds can affect the phenotype of cultured cells, especially, adherent stromal cells, such as fibroblasts. Here we report on unique properties of 3D fibroin/gelatin materials, which may rapidly induce expression of adhesion molecules, such as ICAM-1 and VCAM-1, in cultured primary murine embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs). In contrast, two-dimensional (2D) fibroin/gelatin films did not show significant effects on gene expression profiles in fibroblasts as compared to 3D culture conditions. Interestingly, TNF expression was induced in MEFs cultured in 3D fibroin/gelatin scaffolds, while genetic or pharmacological TNF ablation resulted in diminished ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 expression by these cells. Using selective MAPK inhibitors, we uncovered critical contribution of JNK to 3D-induced upregulation of these adhesion molecules. Moreover, we observed ICAM-1/VCAM-1-dependent adhesion of lymphocytes to fibroblasts cultured in 3D fibroin/gelatin scaffolds, but not on 2D fibroin/gelatin films, suggesting functional reprogramming in stromal cells, when exposed to 3D environment. Finally, we observed significant infiltration of lymphocytes into 3D fibroin/gelatin, but not into collagen scaffolds in vivo upon subcapsular kidney implantation in mice. Together our data highlight the important features of fibroin/gelatin scaffolds, when they are produced as 3D sponges rather than 2D films, which should be considered when using these materials for tissue engineering.

Keywords: 2D; 3D; Artificial lymphoid tissue; Bioengineering; Cell adhesion; Fibroin/gelatin; ICAM-1; JNK; Mouse embryonic fibroblasts; Stromal cells; TNF; VCAM-1.