Hydroxyapatite-decorated Fmoc-hydrogel as a bone-mimicking substrate for osteoclast differentiation and culture

Mattia Vitale, Cosimo Ligorio, Bethan Mcavan, Nigel Hodson, Chris Allan, Stephen Richardson, Judith Hoyland, Jordi Bella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hydrogels are water-swollen networks with great potential for tissue engineering applications. However, their use in bone regeneration is often hampered due to a lack of materials' mineralization and poor mechanical properties. Moreover, most studies are focused on osteoblasts (OBs) for bone formation, while osteoclasts (OCs), cells involved in bone resorption, are often overlooked. Yet, the role of OCs is pivotal for bone homeostasis and aberrant OC activity has been reported in several pathological diseases, such as osteoporosis and bone cancer. For these reasons, the aim of this work is to develop customised, reinforced hydrogels to be used as material platform to study cell function, cell-material interactions and ultimately to provide a substrate for OC differentiation and culture. Here, Fmoc-based RGD-functionalised peptide hydrogels have been modified with hydroxyapatite nanopowder (Hap) as nanofiller, to create nanocomposite hydrogels. Atomic force microscopy showed that Hap nanoparticles decorate the peptide nanofibres with a repeating pattern, resulting in stiffer hydrogels with improved mechanical properties compared to Hap- and RGD-free controls. Furthermore, these nanocomposites supported adhesion of Raw 264.7 macrophages and their differentiation in 2D to mature OCs, as defined by the adoption of a typical OC morphology (presence of an actin ring, multinucleation, and ruffled plasma membrane). Finally, after 7 days of culture OCs showed an increased expression of TRAP, a typical OC differentiation marker. Collectively, the results suggest that the Hap/Fmoc-RGD hydrogel has a potential for bone tissue engineering, as a 2D model to study impairment or upregulation of OC differentiation. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Altered osteoclasts (OC) function is one of the major cause of bone fracture in the most commonly skeletal disorders (e.g. osteoporosis). Peptide hydrogels can be used as a platform to mimic the bone microenvironment and provide a tool to assess OC differentiation and function. Moreover, hydrogels can incorporate different nanofillers to yield hybrid biomaterials with enhanced mechanical properties and improved cytocompatibility. Herein, Fmoc-based RGD-functionalised peptide hydrogels were decorated with hydroxyapatite (Hap) nanoparticles to generate a hydrogel with improved rheological properties. Furthermore, they are able to support osteoclastogenesis of Raw264.7 cells in vitro as confirmed by morphology changes and expression of OC-markers. Therefore, this Hap-decorated hydrogel can be used as a template to successfully differentiate OC and potentially study OC dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-154
Number of pages11
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2022


  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Durapatite
  • Hydrogels/pharmacology
  • Osteoclasts


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