Engineering Vascularized Skin Tissue in a 3D format supported by Recombinant Spider Silk
Abstract: Skin is an organ with a complex structure which plays a crucial role in thebody’s defence against external threats and in maintaining major homeostatic functions. The need for in vitro models that mimic the in vivo milieu is therefore high and relevant with various applications including, among others, penetration, absorption, and toxicity studies. In this context, the choice of the biomaterial that will provide a 3D scaffold to the cultured cells is defining the model’s success. The FN-4RepCT silk is here suggested as a potent biomaterial for skin tissue engineering applications. This recombinantly produced spider silk protein (FN-4RepCT), which can self-assemble into fibrils, creates a robust and elastic matrice with high bioactivity, due to its functionalization with the fibronectin derived RGD-containing peptide. Hence it overcomes the drawbacks of other available biomaterials either synthetic or based on animal derived proteins. Additionally, the FN-4RepCT silk protein can be cast in various 3D formats, two of which are utilized within this project. We herein present a bilayered skin tissue equivalent supported by the FN-4RepCT silk. This is constructed by the combination of a foam format, integrated with dermal fibroblasts and endothelial cells, and a membrane format supporting epidermal keratinocytes. As a result, a vascularized dermal layer that contains ECM components (Collagen I, Collagen III, and Elastin) is constructed and attached to an epidermal layer of differentiated keratinocytes.The protocol presented in this project offers a successful method of evenly integrating cells in the FN-4RepCT silk scaffold, while preserving their ability to resume some of their major in vivo functions like proliferation, ECM secretion, construction of vascular networks, and differentiation. The obtained results were evaluated with immunofluorescence stainings of various markers of interest and further analysed, when necessary, with image processing tools. The results that ensued from the herein presented protocol strongly suggest that the FN-4RepCT silk is a promising biomaterial for skin tissue engineering applications.
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