PNIPAAm-co-Jeffamine® (PNJ) scaffolds as in vitro models for niche enrichment of glioblastoma stem-like cells

John M. Heffernan, James B. McNamara, Sabine Borwege, Brent Vernon, Nader Sanai, Shwetal Mehta, Rachael W. Sirianni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most common adult primary brain tumor, and the 5-year survival rate is less than 5%. GBM malignancy is driven in part by a population of GBM stem-like cells (GSCs) that exhibit indefinite self-renewal capacity, multipotent differentiation, expression of neural stem cell markers, and resistance to conventional treatments. GSCs are enriched in specialized niche microenvironments that regulate stem phenotypes and support GSC radioresistance. Therefore, identifying GSC-niche interactions that regulate stem phenotypes may present a unique target for disrupting the maintenance and persistence of this treatment resistant population. In this work, we engineered 3D scaffolds from temperature responsive poly(N-isopropylacrylamide-co-Jeffamine M-1000® acrylamide), or PNJ copolymers, as a platform for enriching stem-specific phenotypes in two molecularly distinct human patient-derived GSC cell lines. Notably, we observed that, compared to conventional neurosphere cultures, PNJ cultured GSCs maintained multipotency and exhibited enhanced self-renewal capacity. Concurrent increases in expression of proteins known to regulate self-renewal, invasion, and stem maintenance in GSCs (NESTIN, EGFR, CD44) suggest that PNJ scaffolds effectively enrich the GSC population. We further observed that PNJ cultured GSCs exhibited increased resistance to radiation treatment compared to GSCs cultured in standard neurosphere conditions. GSC radioresistance is supported in vivo by niche microenvironments, and this remains a significant barrier to effectively treating these highly tumorigenic cells. Taken in sum, these data indicate that the microenvironment created by synthetic PNJ scaffolds models niche enrichment of GSCs in patient-derived GBM cell lines, and presents tissue engineering opportunities for studying clinically important behaviors such as radioresistance in vitro.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-158
Number of pages10
StatePublished - Oct 2017


  • Brain tumor initiating cells
  • Cancer stem cells
  • Radioresistance
  • Temperature responsive polymer scaffolds
  • Tissue engineering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials


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