Covalent conjugation of bioactive peptides to graphene oxide for biomedical applications†
Graphene is a valuable material in biomedical implant applications due to its mechanical integrity, long-range order, and conductivity; but graphene must be chemically modified to increase biocompatibility and maximize functionality in the body. Here, we developed a foundational synthetic method for covalently functionalizing a reduced GO with bioactive molecules, focusing on synthetic peptides that have shown osteogenic or neurogenic capability as a prototypical example. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy provides evidence that the peptide is covalently linked to the graphenic backbone. These peptide–graphene (Pep–G) conjugate materials can be processed into mechanically robust, three-dimensional constructs. Differences in their electrostatic charges allow the Pep–G conjugates to form self-assembled, layer-by-layer coatings. Further, the Pep–G conjugates are cytocompatible and electrically conductive, leading us to investigate their potential as regenerative scaffolds, as conductive surfaces can stimulate bone and nerve regeneration. Notably, PC12 cells grown on an electrically stimulated Pep–G scaffold demonstrated enhanced adhesion and neurite outgrowth compared to the control. The functionalization strategy developed here can be used to conjugate a wide variety of bioactive molecules to graphene oxide to create cell-instructive surfaces for biomedical scaffold materials.