Nanofibrous PLGA electrospun scaffolds modified with type I collagen influence hepatocyte function and support viability in vitro

Jessica H. Brown, Prativa Das, Michael D. DiVito, David Ivancic, Lay Poh Tan*, Jason A. Wertheim

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


A major challenge of maintaining primary hepatocytes in vitro is progressive loss of hepatocyte-specific functions, such as protein synthesis and cytochrome P450 (CYP450) catalytic activity. We developed a three-dimensional (3D) nanofibrous scaffold made from poly(L-lactide-co-glycolide) (PLGA) polymer using a newly optimized wet electrospinning technique that resulted in a highly porous structure that accommodated inclusion of primary human hepatocytes. Extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins (type I collagen or fibronectin) at varying concentrations were chemically linked to electrospun PLGA using amine coupling to develop an in vitro culture system containing the minimal essential ECM components of the liver micro-environment that preserve hepatocyte function in vitro. Cell-laden nanofiber scaffolds were tested in vitro to maintain hepatocyte function over a two-week period. Incorporation of type I collagen onto PLGA scaffolds (PLGA-Chigh: 100 µg/mL) led to 10-fold greater albumin secretion, 4-fold higher urea synthesis, and elevated transcription of hepatocyte-specific CYP450 genes (CYP3A4, 3.5-fold increase and CYP2C9, 3-fold increase) in primary human hepatocytes compared to the same cells grown within unmodified PLGA scaffolds over two weeks. These indices, measured using collagen-bonded scaffolds, were also higher than scaffolds coupled to fibronectin or an ECM control sandwich culture composed of type I collagen and Matrigel. Induction of CYP2C9 activity was also higher in these same type I collagen PLGA scaffolds compared to other ECM-modified or unmodified PLGA constructs and was equivalent to the ECM control at 7 days. Together, we demonstrate a minimalist ECM-based 3D synthetic scaffold that accommodates primary human hepatocyte inclusion into the matrix, maintains long-term in vitro survival and stimulates function, which can be attributed to coupling of type I collagen. Statement of Significance: Culturing primary hepatocytes within a three-dimensional (3D) structure that mimics the natural liver environment is a promising strategy for extending the function and viability of hepatocytes in vitro. In the present study we generate porous PLGA nanofibers, that are chemically modified with extracellular matrix proteins, to serve as 3D scaffolds for the in vitro culture of primary human hepatocytes. Our findings demonstrate that the use of ECM proteins, especially type I collagen, in a porous 3D environment helps to improve the synthetic function of primary hepatocytes over time. We believe the work presented within will provide insights to readers for drug toxicity and tissue engineering applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-227
Number of pages11
JournalActa Biomaterialia
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • 3D scaffold
  • Electrospun nanofibers
  • Extracellular matrix (ECM) modification
  • Primary hepatocyte culture
  • Tissue engineering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Biotechnology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biomaterials


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