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Advanced Healthcare Materials


Bioengineers have designed numerous instructive brain extracellular matrix (ECM) environments with tailored and tunable protein composition and biomechanical properties in vitro to study astrocyte reactivity during trauma and inflammation. However, a major limitation of both protein-based and model microenvironments is that astrocytes within fail to retain their characteristic stellate morphology and quiescent state without becoming activated under “normal” culture conditions. Here we introduce a synthetic hydrogel, that for the first time demonstrates maintenance of astrocyte quiescence and activation on demand. With this synthetic brain hydrogel, we show the brain-specific integrin-binding and matrix metalloprotease (MMP)-degradable domains of proteins control astrocyte star-shaped morphologies, and we can achieve an ECM condition that maintains astrocyte quiescence with minimal activation. In addition, we can induce activation in a dose-dependent manner via both defined cytokine cocktails and low molecular weight hyaluronic acid. We envision this synthetic brain hydrogel as a new tool to study the physiological role of astrocytes in health and disease.


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