Effects of Keratin Biomaterial Therapeutics on Cellular and Inflammatory Mechanisms in Injury and Disease Models

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Virginia Tech


Keratins are fibrous structural proteins found in human hair that have been used to develop bioactive and biocompatible constructs for a wide variety of tissue engineering and healthcare applications. Their ubiquity, capacity for self-assembly, ease of use and versatility in blended materials, and ability to modulate cell behavior and promote tissue ingrowth have made keratins well-suited for the development of regenerative therapies. In particular, keratins have demonstrated bioactivity in both in-vivo and in-vitro studies, by altering immune and stem cell phenotype and function and promoting an anti-inflammatory/wound healing environment. This work seeks to build on previous research by investigating the ability of low and high molecular weight keratins to augment anti-inflammatory primary macrophage phenotypes and examining the influence of keratin biomaterials on cellular and inflammatory mechanisms in two models of injury and disease.

Rodent models of blast induced neurotrauma (BINT) and severe osteoporosis were used to inform the development of 2D and 3D in-vitro models of macrophage/endothelial cell injury and osteogenic differentiation respectively. Keratin biomaterials exhibited some potential to alter macrophage and endothelial cell dynamics following blast, specifically by promoting anti-inflammatory (M2c-like) macrophage polarization and diminishing endothelial cell injury responses (i.e. endothelial glycocalyx shedding). A more clinically relevant model of osteoporosis found that stem cells harvested from older, osteoporotic animals demonstrated limited proliferative and bone differentiation potential compared to healthy cells. However, 3D constructs (especially keratin-based materials) were able to enhance calcification and osteogenic gene expression of diseased cells. These results highlight the complexity of macrophage phenotypic switching and cellular dynamics in these systems. However, keratin-based therapeutics may prove useful for facilitating tissue regeneration and limiting detrimental inflammatory and cellular responses in various models of injury and disease.



macrophage, inflammation, keratin, traumatic brain injury, osteoporosis