Jenni Leppiniemi, Zeeshan Mutahir, Alexander Dulebo, Piia Mikkonen, Markus Nuopponen, Paula Turkki, and Vesa P. Hytönen
The future success of physiologically relevant three-dimensional (3D) cell/tissue models is dependent on the development of functional biomaterials, which can provide a well-defined 3D environment instructing cellular behavior. To establish a platform to produce tailored hydrogels, we conjugated avidin (Avd) to anionic nanofibrillar cellulose (aNFC) and demonstrated the use of the resulting Avd-NFC hydrogel for 3D cell culture, where Avd-NFC allows easy functionalization via biotinylated molecules. Avidin was successfully conjugated to nanocellulose and remained functional, as demonstrated by electrophoresis and titration with fluorescent biotin. Rheological analysis indicated that Avd-NFC retained shear-thinning and gel-forming properties. Topological characterization using AFM revealed the preserved fiber structure and confirmed the binding of biotinylated vitronectin (B-VN) on the fiber surface. The 3D cell culture experiments with mouse embryonic fibroblasts demonstrated the performance of Avd-NFC hydrogels functionalized with biotinylated fibronectin (B-FN) and B-VN. Cells cultured in Avd-NFC hydrogels functionalized with B-FN or B-VN formed matured integrin-mediated adhesions, indicated by phosphorylated focal adhesion kinase. We observed significantly higher cell proliferation rates when biotinylated proteins were bound to the Avd-NFC hydrogel compared to cells cultured in Avd-NFC alone, indicating the importance of the presence of adhesive sites for fibroblasts. The versatile Avd-NFC allows the easy functionalization of hydrogels with virtually any biotinylated molecule and may become widely utilized in 3D cell/tissue culture applications.