Viscoelastic properties of plasma-agarose hydrogels dictate favorable fibroblast responses for skin tissue engineering applications
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Dermal wound healing relies on the properties of the extracellular matrix (ECM). Thus, hydrogels that replicate skin ECM have reached clinical application. After a dermal injury, a transient, biodegradable fibrin clot is instrumental in wound healing. Human plasma, and its main constituent, fibrin would make a suitable biomaterial for improving wound healing and processed as hydrogels albeit with limited mechanical strength. To overcome this, plasma-agarose (PA) composite hydrogels have been developed and used to prepare diverse bioengineered tissues. To date, little is known about the influence of variable agarose concentrations on the viscoelastic properties of PA hydrogels and their correlation to cell biology. This study reports the characterization of the viscoelastic properties of different concentrations of agarose in PA hydrogels: 0 %, 0.5 %, 1 %, 1.5 %, and 2 % (w/v), and their influence on the cell number and mitochondrial activity of human dermal fibroblasts. Results show that agarose addition increased the stiffness, relaxation time constants 1 (τ1) and 2 (τ2), and fiber diameter, whereas the porosity decreased. Changes in cell metabolism occurred at the early stages of culturing and correlated to the displacement of fast (τ1) and intermediate (τ2) Maxwell elements. Fibroblasts seeded in low PA concentrations spread faster during 14 d than cells cultured in higher agarose concentrations. Collectively, these results confirm that PA viscoelasticity and hydrogel architecture strongly influenced cell behavior. Therefore, viscoelasticity is a key parameter in the design of PA-based implants.