Biomimetic and enzyme-responsive dynamic hydrogels for studying cell-matrix interactions in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma

Hung Yi Liu, Murray Korc, Chien Chi Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The tumor microenvironment (TME) governs all aspects of cancer progression and in vitro 3D cell culture platforms are increasingly developed to emulate the interactions between components of the stromal tissues and cancer cells. However, conventional cell culture platforms are inadequate in recapitulating the TME, which has complex compositions and dynamically changing matrix mechanics. In this study, we developed a dynamic gelatin-hyaluronic acid hybrid hydrogel system through integrating modular thiol-norbornene photopolymerization and enzyme-triggered on-demand matrix stiffening. In particular, gelatin was dually modified with norbornene and 4-hydroxyphenylacetic acid to render this bioactive protein photo-crosslinkable (through thiol-norbornene gelation) and responsive to tyrosinase-triggered on-demand stiffening (through HPA dimerization). In addition to the modified gelatin that provides basic cell adhesive motifs and protease cleavable sequences, hyaluronic acid (HA), an essential tumor matrix, was modularly and covalently incorporated into the cell-laden gel network. We systematically characterized macromer modification, gel crosslinking, as well as enzyme-triggered stiffening and degradation. We also evaluated the influence of matrix composition and dynamic stiffening on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) cell fate in 3D. We found that either HA-containing matrix or a dynamically stiffened microenvironment inhibited PDAC cell growth. Interestingly, these two factors synergistically induced cell phenotypic changes that resembled cell migration and/or invasion in 3D. Additional mRNA expression array analyses revealed changes unique to the presence of HA, to a stiffened microenvironment, or to the combination of both. Finally, we presented immunostaining and mRNA expression data to demonstrate that these irregular PDAC cell phenotypes were a result of matrix-induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-36
Number of pages13
StatePublished - Apr 2018


  • Dynamic hydrogel
  • Epithelial-mesenchymal transition
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Matrix stiffness
  • Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials

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