Design of thiol–ene photoclick hydrogels using facile techniques for cell culture applications†
Thiol–ene ‘click’ chemistries have been widely used in biomaterials applications, including drug delivery, tissue engineering, and controlled cell culture, owing to their rapid, cytocompatible, and often orthogonal reactivity. In particular, hydrogel-based biomaterials formed by photoinitiated thiol–ene reactions afford spatiotemporal control over the biochemical and biomechanical properties of the network for creating synthetic materials that mimic the extracellular matrix or enable controlled drug release. However, the use of charged peptides functionalized with cysteines, which can form disulfides prior to reaction, and vinyl monomers that require multistep syntheses and contain ester bonds, may lead to undesired inhomogeneity or degradation under cell culture conditions. Here, we designed a thiol–ene hydrogel formed by the reaction of allyloxycarbonyl-functionalized peptides and thiol-functionalized poly(ethylene glycol). Hydrogels were polymerized by free radical initiation under cytocompatible doses of long wavelength ultraviolet light in the presence of water-soluble photoinitiators (lithium acylphosphinate, LAP, and 2-hydroxy-1-[4-(2-hydroxyethoxy)phenyl]-2-methyl-1-propanone, Irgacure 2959). Mechanical properties of these hydrogels were controlled by varying the monomer concentration to mimic a range of soft tissue environments, and hydrogel stability in cell culture medium was observed over weeks. Patterns of biochemical cues were created within the hydrogels post-formation and confirmed through the incorporation of fluorescently-labeled peptides and Ellman's assay to detect free thiols. Human mesenchymal stem cells remained viable after encapsulation and subsequent photopatterning, demonstrating the utility of the monomers and hydrogels for three-dimensional cell culture. This facile approach enables the formation and characterization of hydrogels with well-defined, spatially-specific properties and expands the suite of monomers available for three-dimensional cell culture and other biological applications.
- This article is part of the themed collections: Bioorthogonal and click chemistry: Celebrating the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Biomaterials Science Lectureship Winners