American Chemical Society
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Photodegradable Polyacrylamide Gels for Dynamic Control of Cell Functions

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-01-27, 15:21 authored by Sam C. P. Norris, Jennifer Soto, Andrea M. Kasko, Song Li
Cross-linked polyacrylamide hydrogels are commonly used in biotechnology and cell culture applications due to advantageous properties, such as the precise control of material stiffness and the attachment of cell adhesive ligands. However, the chemical and physical properties of polyacrylamide gels cannot be altered once fabricated. Here, we develop a photodegradable polyacrylamide gel system that allows for a dynamic control of polyacrylamide gel stiffness with exposure to light. Photodegradable polyacrylamide hydrogel networks are produced by copolymerizing acrylamide and a photocleavable ortho-nitrobenzyl (o-NB) bis-acrylate cross-linker. When the hydrogels are exposed to light, the o-NB cross-links cleave and the stiffness of the photodegradable polyacrylamide gels decreases. Further examination of the effect of dynamic stiffness changes on cell behavior reveals that in situ softening of the culture substrate leads to changes in cell behavior that are not observed when cells are cultured on presoftened gels, indicating that both dynamic and static mechanical environments influence cell fate. Notably, we observe significant changes in nuclear localization of YAP and cytoskeletal organization after in situ softening; these changes further depend on the type and concentration of cell adhesive proteins attached to the gel surface. By incorporating the simplicity and well-established protocols of standard polyacrylamide gel fabrication with the dynamic control of photodegradable systems, we can enhance the capability of polyacrylamide gels, thereby enabling cell biologists and engineers to study more complex cellular behaviors that were previously inaccessible using regular polyacrylamide gels.