Hydrogels from self-assembling ionic complementary peptides have been receiving a lot of interest from the scientific community as mimetic of the extracellular matrix that can offer three-dimensional supports for cell growth or can become vehicles for the delivery of stem cells, drugs or bioactive proteins. In order to develop a 3D “architecture” for mesenchymal stem cells, we propose the introduction in the hydrogel of conjugates obtained by chemoselective ligation between a ionic-complementary self-assembling peptide (called EAK) and three different bioactive molecules: an adhesive sequence with 4 Glycine-Arginine-Glycine-Aspartic Acid-Serine-Proline (GRGDSP) motifs per chain, an adhesive peptide mapped on h-Vitronectin and the growth factor Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1). The mesenchymal stem cell adhesion assays showed a significant increase in adhesion and proliferation for the hydrogels decorated with each of the synthesized conjugates; moreover, such functionalized 3D hydrogels support cell spreading and elongation, validating the use of this class of self-assembly peptides-based material as very promising 3D model scaffolds for cell cultures, at variance of the less realistic 2D ones. Furthermore, small amplitude oscillatory shear tests showed that the presence of IGF-1-conjugate did not alter significantly the viscoelastic properties of the hydrogels even though differences were observed in the nanoscale structure of the scaffolds obtained by changing their composition, ranging from long, well-defined fibers for conjugates with adhesion sequences to the compact and dense film for the IGF-1-conjugate.
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