Aim: Electrospun nanofibers represent potent guidance substrates for nervous tissue repair. Development of nanofiber-based scaffolds for CNS repair requires, as a first step, an understanding of appropriate neural cell type-substrate interactions. Materials & methods: Astrocyte–nanofiber interactions (e.g., adhesion, proliferation, process extension and migration) were studied by comparing human neural progenitor-derived astrocytes (hNP-ACs) and a human astrocytoma cell line (U373) with aligned polycaprolactone (PCL) nanofibers or blended (25% type I collagen/75% PCL) nanofibers. Neuron–nanofiber interactions were assessed using a differentiated human neuroblastoma cell line (SH-SY5Y). Results & discussion: U373 cells and hNP-AC showed similar process alignment and length when associated with PCL or Type I collagen/PCL nanofibers. Cell adhesion and migration by hNP-AC were clearly improved by functionalization of nanofiber surfaces with type I collagen. Functionalized nanofibers had no such effect on U373 cells. Another clear difference between the U373 cells and hNP-AC interactions with the nanofiber substrate was proliferation; the cell line demonstrating strong proliferation, whereas the hNP-AC line showed no proliferation on either type of nanofiber. Long axonal growth (up to 600 µm in length) of SH-SY5Y neurons followed the orientation of both types of nanofibers even though adhesion of the processes to the fibers was poor. Conclusion: The use of cell lines is of only limited predictive value when studying cell–substrate interactions but both morphology and alignment of human astrocytes were affected profoundly by nanofibers. Nanofiber surface functionalization with collagen significantly improved hNP-AC adhesion and migration. Alternative forms of functionalization may be required for optimal axon–nanofiber interactions
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