Soft poly(Eta-butyl acrylate) networks with tailored mechanical properties designed as substrates for in vitro models


Mechanical conditioning can serve as a potent tool to influence mechano-responsive cells, which plays a prominent role during formation and regeneration of functional tissue. Recently, the differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells could be influenced by the local stiffness of hydrogels used as 2D substrates. However, the mechanical properties and the swellability of hydrogels in physiological liquids are difficult to control precisely as their properties strongly depend on physical parameters like ionic strength or pH value. Here, we explored amorphous, hydrophobic poly(n-butyl acrylate) networks (cPnBA) as soft substrates for cell culture system with adjustable mechanical properties. cPnBAs were synthesized via bulk radical polymerization from n-butyl acrylate (nBA) and poly(propylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PPGDMA) as crosslinker. The Young's modulus for cPnBAs determined by tensile tests could be systematically adjusted from 100 kPa to 10 MPa by increasing the PPGDMA-content at ambient temperature, while the glass transition temperature (Tg) was found to increase from −46 to −22°C. All cPnBAs exhibited similar surface properties with a surface roughness (Rq) in the range from 1.4 to 0.4 µm and advancing contact angles from 115° to 100°, which remained constant after ethylene oxide sterilization. The extracts of sterilized materials were tested for cytotoxic effects with L929 cells. All tested samples were non-cytotoxic. The functional integrity of cell membranes and mitochondrial activity stayed unaffected. The investigated polymer networks are promising candidates as soft substrates for passive mechanical stimulation of cells in vitro in cell culture devices or in vivo as implant coatings.
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