Compounded topographical and physicochemical cueing by micro-engineered chitosan substrates on rat dorsal root ganglion neurons and human mesenchymal stem cells†
Given the intertwined physicochemical effects exerted in vivo by both natural and synthetic (e.g., biomaterial) interfaces on adhering cells, the evaluation of structure–function relationships governing cellular response to micro-engineered surfaces for applications in neuronal tissue engineering requires the use of in vitro testing platforms which consist of a clinically translatable material with tunable physiochemical properties. In this work, we micro-engineered chitosan substrates with arrays of parallel channels with variable width (20 and 60 μm). A citric acid (CA)-based crosslinking approach was used to provide an additional level of synergistic cueing on adhering cells by regulating the chitosan substrate's stiffness. Morphological and physicochemical characterization was conducted to unveil the structure–function relationships which govern the activity of rat dorsal root ganglion neurons (DRGs) and human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs), ultimately singling out the key role of microtopography, roughness and substrate's stiffness. While substrate's stiffness predominantly affected hMSC spreading, the modulation of the channels’ design affected the neuronal architecture's complexity and guided the morphological transition of hMSCs. Finally, the combined analysis of tubulin expression and cell morphology allowed us to cast new light on the predominant role of the microtopography over substrate's stiffness in the process of hMSCs neurogenic differentiation.