Mechanisms of Protein Nanomaterial Interactions

To appreciate why biomimetic nanomaterials provide superior tissue engineering surfaces, the role that the ECM plays in regulating cell function must be understood. All cells exist within an ECM, the three-dimensional network of proteins that provide structural support for a biological tissue. ECM proteins interact with cell surface receptors to regulate gene expression and cell function. Conventional biomaterials with surface features on the micron scale do not resemble the natural nano-roughness of the ECM and, thus, are not biomimetic. Laminin, a critical protein for neural tissue development, is a cruciform protein approximately 70 nm in length and width. Cellular interactions with a nanoscale biomaterial may provide a more physiologically activated cell surface receptor for improved interactions and greater nerve tissue regeneration.

Examples of the superiority of nanomaterials to conventional materials can be seen in research related to a variety of tissues. The persistence of nanomaterial research and the optimism that many feel for the future of biomaterial applications of nanotechnology can be attributed to the degree of control over fine tuning material properties to customize a material for promoting or inhibiting specific cell interactions. Bone, cartilage, and vascular tissue, among others, have been shown to respond to select nanorough surfaces with increased activity (Liu and Webster 2007). In the CNS, a majority of nanomaterial applications have addressed the need for improved neural electrode interfaces for direct tissue recordings. Applications in the PNS have mostly addressed the treatment of damaged peripheral nerve with NGCs, however, NGCs have been applied to the CNS as well. For example, Schwann-cell seeded polyacrylonitrile/ polyvinylchloride channels implanted into transected rat spinal cords have increased the number of myelinated axons in regenerating tissue (Xu et al. 1995).

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