During development, neurites are directed by gradients of attractive and repulsive soluble (chemotactic) cues and substrate-bound adhesive (haptotactic) cues. Many of these cues have been extensively researched in vitro, and incorporated into strategies for nerve and spinal cord regeneration, primarily to improve the regenerative environment. To enhance and direct growth, we have developed a system to create 1D gradients of adhesion through a 3D collagen gel using microfluidics. We test our system using collagen grafted with bioactive peptide sequences, IKVAV and YIGSR, from laminin — an extra-cellular matrix (ECM) protein known to strongly influence neurite outgrowth. Gradients are established from ∼0.37mg peptide/mg collagen – 0, and ∼0.18 mg peptide/mg collagen – 0 of each peptide and tested using chick dorsal root ganglia (DRG). Neurite growth is evaluated 5 days after gradient formation. Neurites show increased growth in the gradient system when compared to control and biased growth up the gradient of peptides. Growth in YIGSR-grafted collagen increased with steeper gradients, whereas growth in IKVAV-grafted collagen decreased with steeper gradients. These results demonstrate that neurite growth can be enhanced and directed by controlled, immobilized, haptotactic gradients through 3D scaffolds, and suggest that including these gradients in regenerative therapies may accelerate nerve and spinal cord regeneration.

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