Peptide Hydrogel Scaffold for Mesenchymal Precursor Cells Implanted to Injured Adult Rat Spinal Cord

Tylie M. Wiseman, Danii Baron-Heeris, Imke G. J. Houwers, Rory Keenan, Richard J. Williams, David R. Nisbet, Alan R. Harvey, Stuart I. Hodgetts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Web of Science)


A unique, biomimetic self-assembling peptide (SAP) hydrogel, Fmoc-DIKVAV, has been shown to be a suitable cell and drug delivery system in the injured brain. In this study, we assessed its utility in adult Fischer 344 (F344) rats as a stabilizing scaffold and vehicle for grafted cells after mild thoracic (thoracic level 10 [T10]) contusion spinal cord injury (SCI). Treatments were as follows: Fmoc-DIKVAV alone, Fmoc-DIKVAV containing viable or nonviable rat mesenchymal precursor cells (rMPCs), and rMPCs alone. The majority of post-SCI treatments were administered at 11-15 days (mean 13.5 days) and the results then compared to SCI-only control (no treatment) rats. Postinjury behavior was quantified using open field locomotion (BBB) and LadderWalk analysis. After perfusion at 8 weeks, longitudinal spinal cord sections were immunostained with a panel of antibodies. Qualitatively, in the SAP-only treatment group, implanted gels contained regenerate axons as well as astrocytic, immune cell, and extracellular matrix (ECM) component profiles. Grafts of Fmoc-DIKVAV plus viable or nonviable rMPCs also contained numerous macrophages/microglia and ECM components, but astrocytes were generally confined to implant margins, and axons were rare. Quantitative analysis showed that, while average cyst size was reduced in all experimental groups, the decrease compared to SCI-only controls was only significant in the SAP and rMPC treatment groups. There was gradual improvement in functionality after SCI, but a consistent trend was only seen between the rMPC treatment group and SCI-only controls. In summary, after contusion SCI, implantation of Fmoc-DIKVAV hydrogel provided a favorable microenvironment for cellular infiltration and axonal regrowth, a supportive role that unexpectedly appeared to be compromised by prior inclusion of rMPCs into the gel matrix.

Impact statement

The self-assembling peptide hydrogel, Fmoc-DIKVAV, is a biomimetic scaffold that is an effective cell and drug delivery system in the injured brain. We examined whether this hydrogel, alone or combined with mesenchymal precursor cells, was also able to stabilise spinal cord tissue after thoracic contusion injury and improve morphological and behavioral outcomes. While improved functionality was not consistently seen, there was reduced cyst size and increased tissue sparing in some groups. There was regenerative axonal growth into hydrogels, but only in initially cell-free implants. This type of polymer is a suitable candidate for further testing in spinal cord injury models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)993-1007
Number of pages15
JournalTissue Engineering. Part A
Issue number15-16
Early online date6 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021


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