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  1. Abstract

    Toward the goal of establishing an engineered model of the vocal fold lamina propria (LP), mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are encapsulated in hyaluronic acid (HA)‐based hydrogels employing tetrazine ligation with strained alkenes. To mimic matrix stiffening during LP maturation, diffusion‐controlled interfacial bioorthogonal crosslinking is carried out on the soft cellular construct using HA modified with a ferocious dienophile,trans‐cyclooctene (TCO). Cultures are maintained in MSC growth media for 14 days to afford a model of a newborn LP that is homogeneously soft (nLP), a homogeneously stiffened construct zero (sLP0) or 7 days (sLP7) post cell encapsulation, and a mature LP model (mLP) with a stiff top layer and a soft bottom layer. Installation of additional HA crosslinks restricts cell spreading. Compared to the nLP controls, sLP7 conditions upregulate the expression of fibrous matrix proteins (Col I, DCN, andFN EDA), classic fibroblastic markers (TNC, FAP, andFSP1), and matrix remodeling enzymes (MMP2, TIMP1, andHAS3). Day 7 stiffening also upregulates the catabolic activities, enhances ECM turnover, and promotesYAPexpression. Overall, in situ delayed matrix stiffening promotes a fibroblast transition from MSCs and enhances YAP‐regulated mechanosensing.

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  2. Successful engineering of functional salivary glands necessitates the creation of cell‐instructive environments for ex vivo expansion and lineage specification of primary human salivary gland stem cells (hS/PCs). Herein, basement membrane mimetic hydrogels are prepared using hyaluronic acid, cell adhesive peptides, and hyperbranched polyglycerol (HPG), with or without sulfate groups, to produce “hyperGel+” or “hyperGel”, respectively. Differential scanning fluorescence experiments confirm the ability of the sulfated HPG precursor to stabilize fibroblast growth factor 10. The hydrogels are nanoporous, cytocompatible, and cell‐permissive, enabling the development of multicellular hS/PC spheroids in 14 days. The incorporation of sulfated HPG species in the hydrogel enhances cell proliferation. Culture of hS/PCs in hyperGel+ in the presence of a Rho kinase inhibitor Y‐27632 (Y‐27) leads to the development of spheroids with a central lumen, increases the expression of acinar marker aquaporin‐3 at the transcript level (AQP3), and decreases the expression of ductal marker keratin 7 at both the transcript (KRT7) and the protein levels (K7). Reduced expression of transforming growth factor beta (TGF‐β) targets SMAD2/3 is also observed in Y27‐treated cultures, suggesting attenuation of TGF‐β signaling. Thus, hyperGel+ cooperates with the Rho‐associated protein kinase inhibitor to promote the development of lumened spheroids with enhanced expression of acinar markers.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2024
  3. Synthetic matrices with dynamic presentation of cell guidance cues are needed for the development of physiologically relevant in vitro tumor models. Towards the goal of mimicking prostate cancer progression and metastasis, we engineered a tunable hyaluronic acid-based hydrogel platform with protease degradable and cell adhesive properties employing bioorthogonal tetrazine ligation with strained alkenes. The synthetic matrix was first fabricated via a slow tetrazine-norbornene reaction, then temporally modified via a diffusion-controlled method using trans-cyclooctene, a fierce dienophile that reacts with tetrazine with an unusually fast rate. The encapsulated DU145 prostate cancer single cells spontaneously formed multicellular tumoroids after 7 days of culture. In situ modification of the synthetic matrix via covalent tagging of cell adhesive RGD peptide induced tumoroid decompaction and the development of cellular protrusions. RGD tagging did not compromise the overall cell viability, nor did it induce cell apoptosis. In response to increased matrix adhesiveness, DU145 cells dynamically loosen cell-cell adhesion and strengthen cell-matrix interactions to promote an invasive phenotype. Characterization of the 3D cultures by immunocytochemistry and gene expression analyses demonstrated that cells invaded into the matrix via a mesenchymal like migration, with upregulation of major mesenchymal markers, and down regulation of epithelial markers. The tumoroids formed cortactin positive invadopodia like structures, indicating active matrix remodeling. Overall, the engineered tumor model can be utilized to identify potential molecular targets and test pharmacological inhibitors, thereby accelerating the design of innovative strategies for cancer therapeutics. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 1, 2024
  4. Synthetic matrices that are cytocompatible, cell adhesive and cell responsive are needed for the engineering of implantable, secretory salivary gland constructs to treat radiation induced xerostomia or dry mouth. Here, taking advantage of the bioorthogonality of the Michael-type addition reaction, hydrogels with comparable stiffness but varying degrees of degradability (100% degradable: 100DEG; 50% degradable: 50DEG; and non-degradable: 0DEG) by cell-secreted matrix metalloproteases (MMPs) were synthesized using thiolated HA (HA-SH), maleimide (MI)-conjugated integrin-binding peptide (RGD-MI) and MI-functionalized peptide crosslinkers that are protease degradable (GIW-bisMI) or non-degradable (GIQ-bisMI). Organized multicellular structures developed readily in all hydrogels from dispersed primary human salivary gland stem/progenitor cells (hS/PCs). As the matrix became progressively degradable, cells proliferated more readily and the multicellular structures became larger, less spherical, and more lobular. Immunocytochemical analysis showed positive staining for stem/progenitor cell markers CD44 and keratin 5 (K5) in all three types of cultures, and positive staining for the acinar marker α-amylase under 50DEG and 100DEG conditions. Quantitatively at the mRNA level, the expression levels of key stem/progenitor markers KIT, KRT5, and ETV4/5 were significantly increased in the degradable gels as compared to the non-degradable counterparts. Western blot analyses revealed that imparting matrix degradation led to >3.8-fold increase in KIT expression by day 15. The MMP-degradable hydrogels also promoted the development of a secretary phenotype, as evidenced by the upregulation of acinar markers α-amylase (AMY), aquaporin-5 (AQP5), and sodium-potassium-chloride cotransporter 1 (SLC12A2). Collectively, we show that cell-mediated matrix remodeling is necessary for the development of regenerative pro-acinar progenitor cells from hS/PCs. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 12, 2024