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Avidin-Conjugated Nanofibrillar Cellulose Hydrogel Functionalized with Biotinylated Fibronectin and Vitronectin Promotes 3D Culture of Fibroblasts

Jenni Leppiniemi, Zeeshan Mutahir, Alexander Dulebo, Piia Mikkonen, Markus Nuopponen, Paula Turkki, and Vesa P. Hytönen

 

Abstract

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.

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