About this Research Topic
Neuronal differentiation and maturation are comparable to the human psycho-physical development: the fate of cell behaviour is strictly related to the (micro)environment where they grow and the nature of the relationship they establish within each other.
Which is the best environment for a neural cell to attain mature neuronal identity?
In the last years scientists have tried to answer this question exploiting the potential of stem cells to self renew and differentiate into neurons when placed in natural or synthetic environments, endowed with chemical, physical and mechanical properties mimicking the extracellular matrix. If the acquisition of mature neuron morphology is somehow easier to be acquired, synaptic contacts and functional properties are hardly obtained due to the difficulty of reconstructing in vitro the developmental stages and the complex cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions that occur in vivo.
Stem cells are often not able to repair the injury in spinal cord when grafted alone but they show regenerative capability if implanted after being cultured on biomaterials like biocompatible polymers and scaffolds or in hydrogels. In fact, in addition to favouring cell survival and maturation, biomaterials have been shown to support regeneration by decreasing inflammation and by controlling the release of signalling molecules, factors, drugs. Although researchers are very active on this subject, novel materials are necessary in order to provide more choices for tissue regeneration and clinical therapy.
This Research Topic yearns for collecting recent advances in the establishment of new environments able to sustain the formation of functional neuronal networks in order to improve the knowledge of cross-talk between neurons and the extracellular matrix, also with the aim of implementing the possibility of neural regeneration. We wish that this Research Topic will collect the efforts of scientists from different disciplines (chemistry, physics, engineering, physiology, neurobiology) in order to provide a wide overview of the topic.
We welcome the submission of Original Research articles but Opinion/Perspective articles and Reviews will be also considered for publication.
Cover image: High magnification image of human neural stem cells cultured 6 weeks in a multi-functionalized 3D self-assembling peptide hydrogel. Neurons are labeled with βIII-TUB marker (green) and astrocytes with GFAP (red), cell nuclei with DAPI (blue). It was kindly provided by Dr Amanda Marchini from Center for Nanomedicine and Tissue Engineering, Ospedale Niguarda, Milan, Italy.
Keywords: Neuronal differentiation, Biocompatible environment, Cell-cell interaction, Cell-environment interaction, Neuronal network
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