Evaluation of nanostructural, mechanical, and biological properties of collagen-nanotube composites.
Collagen I is an essential structural and mechanical building block of various tissues, and it is often used as tissue-engineering scaffolds. However, collagen-based constructs reconstituted in vitro often lacks robust fiber structure, mechanical stability, and molecule binding capability. To enhance these performances, the present study developed 3-D collagen-nanotube composite constructs with two types of functionalized carbon nanotubes, carboxylated nanotubes and covalently functionalized nanotubes (CFNTs). The influences of nanotube functionalization and loading concentration on the collagen fiber structure, mechanical property, biocompatibility, and molecule binding were examined. Results revealed that surface modification and loading concentration of nanotubes determined the interactions between nanotubes and collagen fibrils, thus altering the structure and property of nanotube-collagen composites. Scanning electron microscopy and confocal microscopy revealed that the incorporation of CFNT in collagen-based constructs was an effective means of restructuring collagen fibrils because CFNT strongly bound to collagen molecules inducing the formation of larger fibril bundles. However, increased nanotube loading concentration caused the formation of denser fibril network and larger aggregates. Static stress-strain tests under compression showed that the addition of nanotube into collagen-based constructs did not significantly increase static compressive moduli. Creep/recovery testing under compression revealed that CFNT-collagen constructs showed improved mechanical stability under continuous loading. Testing with endothelial cells showed that biocompatibility was highly dependent on nanotube loading concentration. At a low loading level, CFNT-collagen showed higher endothelial coverage than the other tested constructs or materials. Additionally, CFNT-collagen showed capability of binding to other biomolecules to enhance the construct functionality. In conclusion, functionalized nanotube-collagen composites, particularly CFNT-collagen composites, could be promising materials, which provide structural support showing bundled fibril structure, biocompatibility, multifunctionality, and mechanical stability, but rigorous control over chemical modification, loading concentration, and nanotube dispersion are needed.
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