We show that submicron-sized patterns can be imprinted into soft, recombinant-engineered protein hydrogels (here elastin-like proteins, ELP) by transferring wavy patterns from polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) molds. The high-precision topographical tunability of the relatively stiff PDMS is translated to a bio-responsive, soft material, enabling topographical cell response studies at elastic moduli matching those of tissues. Aligned and unaligned wavy patterns with mold periodicities of 0.24-4.54 μm were imprinted and characterized by coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering and atomic force microscopy. The pattern was successfully transferred down to 0.37 μm periodicity (width in ELP: 250 ± 50 nm, height: 70 ± 40 nm). The limit was set by inherent protein assemblies (diameter: 124-180 nm) that formed due to lower critical solution temperature behavior of the ELP during molding. The width/height of the ELP ridges depended on the degree of hydration; from complete dehydration to full hydration, ELP ridge width ranged from 79 ± 9% to 150 ± 40% of the mold width. The surface of the ridged ELP featured densely packed protein aggregates that were larger in size than those observed in bulk/flat ELP. Adipose-derived stem cells (ADSCs) oriented along hydrated aligned patterns with periodicities ≥0.60 μm (height ≥170 ± 100 nm), while random orientation was observed for smaller distances/amplitudes, as well as flat and unaligned wavy ELP surfaces. Hence, micro-molding of ELP is a promising approach to create tissue-mimicking, hierarchical architectures composed of tunable micron-sized structures with nano-sized protein aggregates, which opens the way for orthogonal screening of cell responses to topography and cell-adhesion ligands at relevant elastic moduli.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Condensed Matter Physics