Supramolecular Nanostructure Activates TrkB Receptor Signaling of Neuronal Cells by Mimicking Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor

Alexandra N. Edelbrock, Zaida Àlvarez, Dina Simkin, Timmy Fyrner, Stacey M. Chin, Kohei Sato, Evangelos Kiskinis, Samuel I. Stupp*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a neurotrophin that binds specifically to the tyrosine kinase B (TrkB) receptor, has been shown to promote neuronal differentiation, maturation, and synaptic plasticity in the central nervous system (CNS) during development or after injury and onset of disease. Unfortunately, native BDNF protein-based therapies have had little clinical success due to their suboptimal pharmacological properties. In the past 20 years, BDNF mimetic peptides have been designed with the purpose of activating certain cell pathways that mimic the functional activity of native BDNF, but the interaction of mimetic peptides with cells can be limited due to the conformational specificity required for receptor activation. We report here on the incorporation of a BDNF mimetic sequence into a supramolecular peptide amphiphile filamentous nanostructure capable of activating the BDNF receptor TrkB and downstream signaling in primary cortical neurons in vitro. Interestingly, we found that this BDNF mimetic peptide is only active when displayed on a peptide amphiphile supramolecular nanostructure. We confirmed that increased neuronal maturation is linked to TrkB signaling pathways by analyzing the phosphorylation of downstream signaling effectors and tracking electrical activity over time. Furthermore, three-dimensional gels containing the BDNF peptide amphiphile (PA) nanostructures encourage cell infiltration while increasing functional maturation. Our findings suggest that the BDNF mimetic PA nanostructure creates a highly bioactive matrix that could serve as a biomaterial therapy in injured regions of the CNS. This new strategy has the potential to induce endogenous cell infiltration and promote functional neuronal maturation through the presentation of the BDNF mimetic signal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6237-6247
Number of pages11
JournalNano letters
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 10 2018


  • BDNF mimetic
  • TrkB receptor
  • maturation
  • nanostructure
  • neurons
  • peptide amphiphile

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanical Engineering


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