Fonseca KB, Granja PL, Barrias CC. Prog Polym Sci 2014;39:2010-29.
Hydrogels are widely used as provisional matrices for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, showing also great promise as platforms for 3D cell culture. Different bio-functionalization strategies have been proposed to enhance the biological performance of hydrogels, particularly when they lack intrinsic bioactivity. In this context, the design of artificial materials that mimic structural and functional features of the natural extracellular matrix (ECM) has been pursued. This review presents an overview on bioengineering approaches of integrating protease-sensitive motifs into hydrogels, for the creation of cell-responsive biomimetic scaffolding materials that degrade in response to their proteolytic microenvironment. The successful incorporation of protease-sensitive motifs in several synthetic and natural polymers, which has been achieved using various chemical routes, is described. In each case, the selected peptide sequences and their target proteases are highlighted, along with the main achievements of the study. A critical analysis of current limitations and recent advances is also provided, along with suggestions for further improvements.