The effect of glycosaminoglycan content on polyethylenimine-based gene delivery within three-dimensional collagen-GAG scaffolds
The design of biomaterials for increasingly complex tissue engineering applications often requires exogenous presentation of biomolecular signals. Integration of gene delivery vectors with a biomaterial scaffold offers the potential to bypass the use of expensive and relatively inefficient growth factor supplementation strategies to augment cell behavior. However, integration of cationic polymer based gene delivery vectors within three-dimensional biomaterials, particularly matrices which can carry significant surface charge, remains poorly explored. We examined the potential of polyethylenimine (PEI) as a gene delivery vector for three-dimensional collagen-glycosaminoglycan (CG) scaffolds under development for tendon repair. While acetylated versions of PEI have demonstrated improved transfection efficiency in 2D culture assays, we investigated translation of this effect to a 3D biomaterial that contains significant electrostatic charge. A reporter gene was used to examine the impact of polymer modification, polymer : DNA ratio, and the degree of sulfation of the biomaterial microenvironment on gene delivery in vitro. We observed highest transgene expression in acetylated and unmodified PEI at distinct polymer : DNA ratios; notably, the enhancement often seen in two-dimensional culture for acetylated PEI did not fully translate to three-dimensional scaffolds. We also found highly sulfated heparin-based CG scaffolds showed enhanced initial luciferase expression but not prolonged activity. While PEI constructs significantly reduced tenocyte metabolic health during the period of transfection, heparin-based CG scaffolds showed the greatest recovery in tenocyte metabolic health over the full 2 week culture. These results suggest that the electrostatic environment of three-dimensional biomaterials may be an important design criterion for cationic polymer-based gene delivery.