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Characterization Of Spider Silk For Elucidating The Reasons Behind Its Medical Success In Nerve Regeneration Applications
Aida Naghilou1, Lena Pöttschacher2, Flavia Millesi1, Anda Mann1, Paul Supper1, Ellen Backus2, Christine Radtke1.
1Research Laboratory of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, 2Department of Physical Chemistry, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.

PURPOSE: Spider silk has been established as one of nature’s most fascinating materials. It has been used in applications such as fishing and wound healing for centuries and in recent years has attracted vivid attention due to its unique strength, toughness, and elasticity [1]. One of the more remarkable applications of the spider silk in medicine is its use for nerve growth and nerve regeneration [2]. The Schwann cells, which are a crucial part of the nerve regeneration process, adhere well to spider silk and migrate along it without any inflammatory response or physiological pH changes [3]. However, the interaction mechanisms between the cells and the silk are still unknown and therefore the reasons behind the medical success of the silk is unclear. The aim of this study is to elucidate what material properties of the silk lead to its unique medical performance. METHODS: In this work, we performed systematic studies for the material characterization of the dragline and cocoon silk from spider Nephila Edulis, and the silk from the spider Avicularia avicularia. The characterization experiments focus on the Raman spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and wettability measurements of the silk. The material characterizations are accompanied with the medical assessment of the silk by in vitro experiments with Schwann cells, where the adhesion and motility of the cells on the spider silk is monitored with live cell imaging and the proliferation is evaluated by immunofluorescent staining. RESULTS: By comparing different spider silks, materials characteristics that promote Schwann cell adhesion can be identified. We found out that the secondary protein structure of the silk and its diameter varies between the species. These characteristics play an important role in the medical success of the silk as the adhesion, motility, and the proliferation of the cells is not the same on all spider silks. CONCLUSIONS: This combination of fundamental studies with material characterization and the in vitro experiments, delivers a tool for optimum material choice and also a basis for potential material improvement or material synthesis for nerve regeneration applications.
[1] L. Römer, T. Scheibel, The elaborate structure of spider silk, Prion, 2 (2008) 154-161.
[2] C. Radtke, Natural Occurring Silks and Their Analogues as Materials for Nerve Conduits, Int J Mol Sci, 17 (2016) 1754.
[3] T. Kornfeld, P.M. Vogt, V. Bucan, C.-T. Peck, K. Reimers, C. Radtke, Characterization and Schwann Cell Seeding of up to 15.0 cm Long Spider Silk Nerve Conduits for Reconstruction of Peripheral Nerve Defects, J Funct Biomater, 7 (2016) 30.


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