Rheological characterization of dynamic remodeling of the pericellular region by human mesenchymal stem cell-secreted enzymes in well-defined synthetic hydrogel scaffolds†
Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) dynamically remodel their microenvironment during basic processes, such as migration and differentiation. Migration requires extracellular matrix invasion, necessitating dynamic cell–material interactions. Understanding these interactions is critical to advancing materials designs that harness and manipulate these processes for applications including wound healing and tissue regeneration. In this work, we encapsulate hMSCs in a cell-degradable poly(ethylene glycol)–peptide hydrogel to determine how cell-secreted enzymes, specifically matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases (TIMPs), create unique pericellular microenvironments. Using multiple particle tracking microrheology (MPT), we characterize spatio-temporal rheological properties in the pericellular region during cell-mediated remodeling. In MPT, the thermal motion of probes embedded in the network is measured. A newly designed sample chamber that limits probe drift during degradation and minimizes high value antibody volumes required for cell treatments enables MPT characterization. Previous MPT measurements around hMSCs show that directly around the cell the scaffold remains intact with the cross-link density decreasing as distance from the cell increases. This degradation profile suggests that hMSCs are simultaneously secreting TIMPs, which are inactivating MMPs through MMP–TIMP complexes. By neutralizing TIMPs using antibodies, we characterize the changes in matrix degradation. TIMP inhibited hMSCs create a reaction-diffusion type degradation profile where MMPs are actively degrading the matrix immediately after secretion. In this profile, the cross-link density increases with increasing distance from the cell. This change in material properties also increases the speed of migration. This simple treatment could increase delivery of hMSCs to injuries to aid wound healing and tissue regeneration.