Integrating Soft Hydrogel with Nanostructures Reinforces Stem Cell Adhesion and Differentiation

Bohan Yin, Hongrong Yang, Mo Yang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Biophysical cues can regulate stem cell behaviours and have been considered as critical parameters of synthetic biomaterials for tissue engineering. In particular, hydrogels have been utilized as promising biomimetic and biocompatible materials to emulate the microenvironment. Therefore, well-defined mechanical properties of a hydrogel are important to direct desirable phenotypes of cells. Yet, limited research pays attention to engineering soft hydrogel with improved cell adhesive property, which is crucial for stem cell differentiation. Herein, we introduce silica nanoparticles (SiO2 NPs) onto the surface of methacrylated hyaluronic (MeHA) hydrogel to manipulate the presentation of cell adhesive ligands (RGD) clusters, while remaining similar bulk mechanical properties (2.79 ± 0.31 kPa) to that of MeHA hydrogel (3.08 ± 0.68 kPa). RGD peptides are either randomly decorated in the MeHA hydrogel network or on the immobilized SiO2 NPs (forming MeHA–SiO2). Our results showed that human mesenchymal stem cells exhibited a ~1.3-fold increase in the percentage of initial cell attachment, a ~2-fold increase in cell spreading area, and enhanced expressions of early-stage osteogenic markers (RUNX2 and alkaline phosphatase) for cells undergoing osteogenic differentiation with the osteogenic medium on MeHA–SiO2 hydrogel, compared to those cultured on MeHA hydrogel. Importantly, the cells cultivated on MeHA–SiO2 expressed a ~5-fold increase in nuclear localization ratio of the yes-associated protein, which is known to be mechanosensory in stem cells, compared to the cells cultured on MeHA hydrogel, thereby promoting osteogenic differentiation of stem cells. These findings demonstrate the potential use of nanomaterials into a soft polymeric matrix for enhanced cell adhesion and provide valuable guidance for the rational design of biomaterials for implantation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19
JournalJournal of Composites Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2022


  • Cell adhesion
  • Mechanotransduction
  • Nanocomposite hydrogel
  • Stem cell differentiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)


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