Beta 1 integrins in bone formation during development and engineering integrin-specific hydrogels for enhanced bone healing
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Healing large bone defects remains a clinical challenge. While autografts are the gold standard treatment for large bone defects, they are limited by availability and donor site pain. Growth factor treatments such as BMP therapy provide a promising alternative but are expensive and present clinical safety concerns, primarily due to delivery of BMPs at supraphysiological doses. Integrins are ECM receptors which mediate crucial cell functions such as adhesion and differentiation. Therefore, understanding the role of integrins in bone formation and directing desired interactions may enable modulation of host cell functions for therapeutic applications. In this work, beta 1 integrins were deleted in osteolineage cells of transgenic mice at three different stages of differentiation to elucidate their role in bone development. We also engineered bioartificial PEG-based matrices which target the pro-osteogenic alpha 2 beta 1 integrin to promote bone healing. Conditional deletion of beta 1 integrins in osteochondroprogenitor cells under the Twist 2 promoter resulted in severe pre-natal skeletal mineralization defects and embryonic lethality. Targeted deletion of beta 1 integrins in osterix-expressing osteoprogenitors resulted in growth abnormalities, reduced calvarial mineralization, impaired femur development, and tooth defects. However, mice lacking beta 1 integrins in osteocalcin-expressing osteoblasts and osteocytes displayed only a mild skeletal phenotype, indicating that beta 1 integrins play an important role in early skeletal development, but are not required for mature osteoblast function. PEG hydrogels functionalized with the integrin-specific GFOGER ligand enhanced bone regeneration, induced defect bridging in combination with low doses of rhBMP-2 and stimulated improved bone healing compared collagen sponges, which are the clinical standard delivery vector for BMP-2 therapy. These results suggest that treatment with bioartificial integrin-specific PEG hydrogels may be a promising clinical strategy for bone regeneration in large bone defects.