Biofunctionalized pectin hydrogels as 3D cellular microenvironments†
In situ-forming hydrogels of pectin, a polysaccharide present in the cell wall of higher plants, were prepared using an internal ionotropic gelation strategy based on calcium carbonate/D-glucono-δ-lactone, and explored for the first time as cell delivery vehicles. Since no ultrapure pectins are commercially available yet, a simple and efficient purification method was established, effectively reducing the levels of proteins, polyphenols and endotoxins of the raw pectin. The purified pectin was then functionalized by carbodiimide chemistry with a cell-adhesive peptide (RGD). Its gelation was analyzed by rheometry and optimized. Human mesenchymal stem cells embedded within unmodified and RGD-pectin hydrogels of different viscoelasticities (1.5 and 2.5 wt%) remained viable and metabolically active for up to 14 days. On unmodified pectin hydrogels, cells remained isolated and round-shaped. In contrast, within RGD-pectin hydrogels they elongated, spread, established cell-to-cell contacts, produced extracellular matrix, and migrated outwards the hydrogels. After 7 days of subcutaneous implantation in mice, acellular pectin hydrogels were considerably degraded, particularly the 1.5 wt% hydrogels. Altogether, these findings show the great potential of pectin-based hydrogels, which combine an interesting set of easily tunable properties, including the in vivo degradation profile, for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.