Creating a 3D microenvironment for monocyte cultivation: ECM-mimicking hydrogels based on gelatine and hyaluronic acid derivatives
Macrophages play a critical role in the initial response to foreign materials in the body. As most biomaterial-based implantable devices would be treated as a foreign body by the immune system, there is a need for systems that can establish a favourable interaction between the implanted biomaterial and the host. Herein, we describe such a system that can be used as an ECM-like microenvironment for macrophage polarization. The hydrogel system was designed to provide a co-crosslinkable microenvironment containing both protein and glycosaminoglycan components, a hydroxyphenyl derivative of gelatine (GTN–HPA) and tyraminated hyaluronic acid (HA–TA). Both polymers can undergo a crosslinking reaction between polymer chains via the same polymerisation initiation system where the polymer network is formed by crosslinks between phenols in GTN–HPA and HA–TA. The mechanical properties and swelling of the hydrogel can be easily controlled as a function of the crosslinking mode and by the ratio of GTN–HPA and HA–TA compounds used. THP-1 monocytes were successfully encapsulated in the gels and cultured for up to 28 days. Cells exhibited higher metabolic activity when encapsulated in softer hydrogels (E ≈ 10 kPa) compared to stiffer (E ≈ 20 kPa) material in which monocytes tended to form large clusters. Encapsulation of monocytes in the material with HA–TA content enhanced the expression of macrophage-related genes. We demonstrated a co-crosslinkable GTN–HPA and HA–TA matrix microenvironment that is suitable for in vitro micro tissue model applications.