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Hydrogels are a class of soft biomaterials and the material of choice for a myriad of biomedical applications due to their biocompatibility and highly tunable mechanical and biochemical properties. Specifically, light-mediated thiol-norbornene click reactions between norbornene-modified macromers and di-thiolated crosslinkers can be used to form base hydrogels amenable to spatial biochemical modifications via subsequent light reactions between pendant norbornenes in the hydrogel network and thiolated peptides. Macromers derived from natural sources (e.g., hyaluronic acid, gelatin, alginate) can cause off-target cell signaling, and this has motivated the use of synthetic macromers such as poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG). In this study, commercially available 8-arm norbornene-modified PEG (PEG-Nor) macromers were reacted with di-thiolated crosslinkers (dithiothreitol, DTT) to form synthetic hydrogels. By varying the PEG-Nor weight percent or DTT concentration, hydrogels with a stiffness range of 3.3 kPa–31.3 kPa were formed. Pendant norbornene groups in these hydrogels were used for secondary reactions to either increase hydrogel stiffness (by reacting with DTT) or to tether mono-thiolated peptides to the hydrogel network. Peptide functionalization has no effect on bulk hydrogel mechanics, and this confirms that mechanical and biochemical signals can be independently controlled. Using photomasks, thiolated peptides can also be photopatterned onto base hydrogels, and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) attach and spread on RGD-functionalized PEG-Nor hydrogels. MSCs encapsulated in PEG-Nor hydrogels are also highly viable, demonstrating the ability of this platform to form biocompatible hydrogels for 2D and 3D cell culture with user-defined mechanical and biochemical properties.


Copyright: © 2024 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.