The power of peptides: short sequences to promote cell-adhesion to synthetic materials


In a recent special issue of the journal Trends in Biotechnology, authors from Queensland University of Technology present an excellent summary of the past and present uses of cell-adhesion peptides (CAPs) for tissue engineering. In this work, the authors highlight a range of short peptide sequences which are associated with cell-adhesion, and discuss their potential use in therapeutically-relevant areas, including the production of CAP-functionalised implants, scaffolds and hydrogels.

While the peptides in question are generally short and produced synthetically, their sequences are excised from macromolecules found in the extracellular matrix (ECM) which are known to effect cell-adhesion. The paper highlights the tripeptide RGD, which is present in fibronectin among other ECM proteins, accounting for a vast majority of cited applications of CAPs. Beyond RGD, the laminin-derived peptide sequences IKVAV and YIGSR are found to be the distant second- and third- most common CAPs discussed in the literature. As the authors implore, the untapped potential of a diverse range of known and putative CAPs should now be explored to provide sufficient diversity to mimic the native ECM, while reaping the benefits associated with using synthetic materials. With modern liquid handling capabilities, a system is described which could facilitate the screening of potential CAPs for a given application, and this is envisaged to allow the inclusion of numerous cell-adhesion elements into the synthetic matrix, including multiple peptides and growth factors.

While looking forward at the many potential applications of both established and putative CAPs, the authors acknowledge that much work remains to be done to establish the most effective combinations of peptides for each cell type. However, they also highlight several applications of synthetic materials which would benefit greatly from this work, including High Throughput Screening, 3D cell culture and Bioprinting.

The current status of CAPs appears to rely primarily on the use of tried and tested sequences which have performed well, but do not fully mimic the complexity found in the native ECM. Through the exploration of less explored CAPs, and the inclusion of multiple peptides and/or growth factors into new synthetic materials for cell culture, we may yet edge closer to the desired goal of achieving native-like complexity using synthetic components, which can be more thoroughly characterised and provide superior reproducibility. The highlighted paper gives an excellent summary of the current landscape and future prospects for research using CAPs, if you only have time to read one paper about ECM-derived peptides today, this opinion piece will give an excellent lay of the land.


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