In situ miRNA delivery from a hydrogel promotes osteogenesis of encapsulated mesenchymal stromal cells

J. Carthew, I. Donderwinkel, S. Shrestha, V. X. Truong, J. S. Forsythe, J. E. Frith

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11 Citations (Scopus)


Hydrogels are attractive candidates for use in tissue-engineering and the encapsulation and subsequent differentiation of mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs) is a strategy that holds great promise for the repair and regeneration of bone and cartilage. However, MSCs are well-known for their sensitivity to mechanical cues, particularly substrate stiffness, and so the inherent softness of hydrogels is poorly matched to the mechanical cues that drive efficient osteogenesis. One approach to overcome this limitation is to harness mechanotransductive signalling pathways and override the signals cells receive from their environment. Previous reports demonstrate that mechanosensitive miRNAs, miR-100–5p and miR-143–3p can enhance MSC osteogenesis, using a complex multi-step procedure to transfect, encapsulate and differentiate the cells. 

In this study, we develop and characterise a facile system for in situ transfection of MSCs encapsulated within a light-crosslinkable gelatin-PEG hydrogel. Comparing the influence of different transfection agents and hydrogel compositions, we show that particle size, charge, and hydrogel mechanical properties all influence the diffusion of embedded transfection agent complexes. By incorporating both MSCs and transfection agents into the hydrogels we demonstrate successful in situ transfection of encapsulated MSCs. Comparing the efficacy of pre- and in situ transfection of miR-100–5p/miR-143–3p on the osteogenic capacity of hydrogel-encapsulated MSCs, our data demonstrates superior mineralisation and osteogenic gene expression following in situ transfections. Overall, we demonstrate a simple, one-pot system for in situ transfection of miRNAs to enhance MSC osteogenic potential and thus demonstrates significant promise to improve the efficiency of MSC differentiation in hydrogels for bone tissue-engineering applications. Statement of significance: Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) are sensitive to cues from their surrounding microenvironment. Osteogenesis is enhanced in MSCs grown on stiffer substrates, but this is limited when using hydrogels for bone tissue-engineering. Modulating pro-osteogenic genes with mechanosensitive microRNAs (miRNAs) represents a potential tool to overcome this challenge. Here we report a hydrogel platform to deliver miRNAs to encapsulated MSCs. We characterise effects of hydrogel composition and transfection agent type on their mobility and transfection efficiency, demonstrating successful in situ transfection of MSCs and showing that miRNAs can significantly enhance osteogenic mineral deposition and marker gene expression. This system was simpler and more effective than conventional 2D transfection prior to encapsulation and therefore holds promise to improve MSC differentiation in bone tissue-engineering.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-261
Number of pages13
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • Hydrogels
  • Mesenchymal stromal cells
  • microRNAs
  • Osteogenesis
  • Transfection

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