Integrin and syndecan binding peptide-conjugated alginate hydrogel for modulation of nucleus pulposus cell phenotype

Xiaohong Tan, Era Jain, Marcos N. Barcellona, Evan Morris, Sydney Neal, Munish C. Gupta, Jacob M. Buchowski, Michael Kelly, Lori A. Setton, Nathaniel Huebsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Biomaterial based strategies have been widely explored to preserve and restore the juvenile phenotype of cells of the nucleus pulposus (NP) in degenerated intervertebral discs (IVD). With aging and maturation, NP cells lose their ability to produce necessary extracellular matrix and proteoglycans, accelerating disc degeneration. Previous studies have shown that integrin or syndecan binding peptide motifs from laminin can induce NP cells from degenerative human discs to re-express juvenile NP-specific cell phenotype and biosynthetic activity. Here, we engineered alginate hydrogels to present integrin- and syndecan-binding peptides alone or in combination (cyclic RGD and AG73, respectively) to introduce bioactive features into the alginate gels. We demonstrated human NP cells cultured upon and within alginate hydrogels presented with cRGD and AG73 peptides exhibited higher cell viability, biosynthetic activity, and NP-specific protein expression over alginate alone. Moreover, the combination of the two peptide motifs elicited markers of the NP-specific cell phenotype, including N-Cadherin, despite differences in cell morphology and multicellular cluster formation between 2D and 3D cultures. These results represent a promising step toward understanding how distinct adhesive peptides can be combined to guide NP cell fate. In the future, these insights may be useful to rationally design hydrogels for NP cell-transplantation based therapies for IVD degeneration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number121113
StatePublished - Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Cell therapy
  • Disc degeneration
  • Intervertebral disc
  • Laminin-mimetic peptides
  • Ligand presentation
  • Microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials


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