Aligned, electrospun fibers have shown great promise in facilitating directed neurite outgrowth within cell and animal models. While electrospun fiber diameter does influence cellular behavior, it is not known how aligned, electrospun fiber scaffolds of differing diameter influence neurite outgrowth and Schwann cell (SC) migration. Thus, the goal of this study was to first create highly aligned, electrospun fiber scaffolds of varying diameter and then assess neurite and SC behavior from dorsal root ganglia (DRG) explants. Three groups of highly aligned, electrospun poly-l-lactic acid (PLLA) fibers were created (1325+383 nm, large diameter fibers; 759+179 nm, intermediate diameter fibers; and 293+65 nm, small diameter fibers). Embryonic stage nine (E9) chick DRG were cultured on fiber substrates for 5 days and then the explants were stained against neurofilament and S100. DAPI stain was used to assess SC migration. Neurite length and SC migration distance were determined. In general, the direction of neurite extension and SC migration were guided along the aligned fibers. On the small diameter fiber substrate, the neurite length was 42% and 36% shorter than those on the intermediate and large fiber substrates, respectively. Interestingly, SC migration did not correlate with that of neurite extension in all situations. SCs migrated equivalently with extending neurites in both the small and large diameter scaffolds, but lagged behind neurites on the intermediate diameter scaffolds. Thus, in some situations, topography alone is sufficient to guide neurites without the leading support of SCs. Scanning electron microscopy images show that neurites cover the fibers and do not reside exclusively between fibers. Further, at the interface between fibers and neurites, filopodial extensions grab and attach to nearby fibers as they extend down the fiber substrate. Overall, the results and observations suggest that fiber diameter is an important parameter to consider when constructing aligned, electrospun fibers for nerve regeneration applications.
Acta Biomater.6, 2970–2978 (2010).