Conductive and electroactive polymers have the potential to enhance engineered cardiac tissue function. In this study, an interpenetrating network of the electrically-conductive polymer polypyrrole (PPy) was grown within a matrix of flexible polycaprolactone (PCL) and evaluated as a platform for directing the formation of functional cardiac cell sheets. PCL films were either treated with sodium hydroxide to render them more hydrophilic and enhance cell adhesion or rendered electroactive with PPy grown via chemical polymerization yielding PPy-PCL that had a resistivity of 1.0 ± 0.4 kΩ cm, which is similar to native cardiac tissue. Both PCL and PPy-PCL films supported cardiomyocyte attachment; increasing the duration of PCL pre-treatment with NaOH resulted in higher numbers of adherent cardiomyocytes per unit area, generating cell densities which were more similar to those on PPy-PCL films (1568 ± 126 cells mm(-2), 2880 ± 439 cells mm(-2), 3623 ± 456 cells mm(-2) for PCL with 0, 24, 48 h of NaOH pretreatment, respectively; 2434 ± 166 cells mm(-2) for PPy-PCL). When cardiomyocytes were cultured on the electrically-conductive PPy-PCL, more cells were observed to have peripheral localization of the gap junction protein connexin-43 (Cx43) as compared to cells on NaOH-treated PCL (60.3 ± 4.3% vs. 46.6 ± 5.7%). Cx43 gene expression remained unchanged between materials. Importantly, the velocity of calcium wave propagation was faster and calcium transient duration was shorter for cardiomyocyte monolayers on PPy-PCL (1612 ± 143 μm/s, 910 ± 63 ms) relative to cells on PCL (1129 ± 247 μm/s, 1130 ± 20 ms). In summary, PPy-PCL has demonstrated suitability as an electrically-conductive substrate for culture of cardiomyocytes, yielding enhanced functional properties; results encourage further development of conductive substrates for use in differentiation of stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes and cardiac tissue engineering applications. Current conductive materials for use in cardiac regeneration are limited by cytotoxicity or cost in implementation. In this manuscript, we demonstrate for the first time the application of a biocompatible, conductive polypyrrole-polycaprolactone film as a platform for culturing cardiomyocytes for cardiac regeneration. This study shows that the novel conductive film is capable of enhancing cell-cell communication through the formation of connexin-43, leading to higher velocities for calcium wave propagation and reduced calcium transient durations among cultured cardiomyocyte monolayers. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that chemical modification of polycaprolactone through alkaline-mediated hydrolysis increased overall cardiomyocyte adhesion. The results of this study provide insight into how cardiomyocytes interact with conductive substrates and will inform future research efforts to enhance the functional properties of cardiomyocytes, which is critical for their use in pharmaceutical testing and cell therapy.
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