Inflammation via myeloid differentiation primary response gene 88 signaling mediates the fibrotic response to implantable synthetic poly(ethylene glycol) hydrogels.
Synthetic hydrogels, such as poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG), are promising for a range of in vivo applications. However, like all non-biological biomaterials, synthetic hydrogels including PEG elicit a foreign body response (FBR). The FBR is thought to be initiated by adsorbed protein that is recognized by and subsequently activates inflammatory cells, notably macrophages, and culminates with fibrotic encapsulation. However, the molecular mechanisms that drive the FBR are not well understood. Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are key receptors that recognize pathogens, but also recognize altered host proteins that display damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs). Thus TLRs may play a role in the FBR. Here, we investigated myeloid differentiation primary response gene 88 (MyD88), a signaling adaptor protein that mediates inflammatory cytokine production induced by most TLRs. An in vitro model was used consisting of macrophages cultured on the surface of synthetic hydrogels, specifically PEG, with pre-adsorbed serum proteins. Our in vitro findings demonstrate that MyD88-dependent signaling is the predominant inflammatory pathway in macrophage activation to synthetic hydrogels. When stimulated with TLR agonists to mimic additional DAMPs present in vivo, MyD88-dependent signaling was also the predominant pathway in macrophage activation. An in vivo model of PEG hydrogels implanted subcutaneously in wild-type and MyD88-/- mice also demonstrated that MyD88 is the key contributor to the recruitment of inflammatory cells and formation of the fibrous capsule surrounding the implanted hydrogel. Taken together, findings from this study identify MyD88-mediated inflammation as being a critical pathway involved not only in the inflammatory response, but in formation of the fibrous capsule to PEG hydrogels. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Synthetic hydrogels are promising for in vivo applications but, like all non-biological biomaterials, synthetic hydrogels elicit a foreign body response (FBR). The molecular mechanisms that drive the FBR are not well understood. This work identifies the myeloid differentiation primary response gene 88 (MyD88) as a central mediator to macrophage activation in response to a poly(ethylene glycol) hydrogel with pre-adsorbed proteins in vitro. Moreover, MyD88 was also central to the recruitment of inflammatory cells, which included neutrophils, monocytes, and macrophages, to implanted PEG hydrogels and to fibrous encapsulation. These findings demonstrate that MyD88-mediated inflammation is responsible in part for the formation of the fibrous capsule of the FBR.