NiCHE Platform: Nature-Inspired Catechol-Conjugated Hyaluronic Acid Environment Platform for Salivary Gland Tissue Engineering
Sang-woo Lee, Ji Hyun Ryu, Min Jae Do, Eun Namkoong, Haeshin Lee* and Kyungpyo Park*
Recently, there has been growing interest in replacing severely damaged salivary glands with artificial salivary gland functional units created in vitro by tissue engineering approaches. Although various materials such as poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid), polylactic acid, poly(glycolic acid), and polyethylene glycol hydrogels have been used as scaffolds for salivary gland tissue engineering, none of them is effective enough to closely recapitulate the branched structural complexity and heterogeneous cell population of native salivary glands. Instead of discovering new biomaterial candidates, we synthesized hyaluronic acid–catechol (HACA) conjugates to establish a versatile hyaluronic acid coating platform named “NiCHE (nature-inspired catechol-conjugated hyaluronic acid environment)” for boosting the salivary gland tissue engineering efficacy of the previously reported biomaterials. By mimicking hyaluronic acid-rich niche in the mesenchyme of embryonic submandibular glands (eSMGs) with NiCHE coating on substrates including polycarbonate membrane, stiff agarose hydrogel, and polycaprolactone scaffold, we observed significantly enhanced cell adhesion, vascular endothelial and progenitor cell proliferation, and branching of in vitro-cultured eSMGs. High mechanical stiffness of the substrate is known to inhibit eSMG growth, but the NiCHE coating significantly reduced such stiffness-induced negative effects, leading to successful differentiation of progenitor cells to functional acinar and myoepithelial cells. These enhancement effects of the NiCHE coating were due to the increased proliferation of vascular endothelial cells via interaction between CD44 and surface-immobilized HAs. As such, our NiCHE coating platform renders any kind of material highly effective for salivary gland tissue culture by mimicking in vivo embryonic mesenchymal HA. Based on our results, we expect the NiCHE coating to expand the range of biomaterial candidates for salivary glands and other branching epithelial organs.