Serum protein adsorption modulates the toxicity of highly positively charged hydrogel surfaces

Yuji Yamada, Galit Fichman, Joel P. Schneider*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Hydrogels formed from peptide self-assembly are a class of materials that are being explored for their utility in tissue engineering, drug and cell delivery, two- and three-dimensional cell culture, and as adjuvants in surgical procedures. Most self-assembled peptide gels can be syringe-injected in vivo to facilitate the local delivery of payloads, including cells, directly to the targeted tissue. Herein, we report that highly positively charged peptide gels are inherently toxic to cells, which would seem to limit their utility. However, adding media containing fetal bovine serum, a common culture supplement, directly transforms these toxic gels into cytocompatible materials capable of sustaining cell viability even in the absence of added nutrients. Multistage mass spectrometry showed that at least 40 serum proteins can absorb to a gel’s surface through electrostatic attraction ameliorating its toxicity. Further, cell-based studies employing model gels having only bovine serum albumin, fetuin-A, or vitronectin absorbed to the gel surface showed that single protein additives can also be effective depending on the identity of the cell line. Separate studies employing these model gels showed that the mechanism(s) responsible for mitigating apoptosis involve both the pacification of gel surface charge and adsorbed protein-mediated cell signaling events that activate both the PI3/Akt and MAPK/ERK pathways which are known to facilitate resistance to stress-induced apoptosis and overall cell survival.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)8006-8014
Number of pages9
JournalACS applied materials & interfaces
Issue number7
StatePublished - 24 Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Chemical Society. All rights reserved.


  • Cytocompatibility
  • Hydrogel
  • Peptide
  • Self-assembly
  • Serum


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