Multifunctional peptide-conjugated nanocarriers for pulp regeneration in a full-length human tooth root.
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Dental pulp is a highly vascularized tissue, situated in an inextensible environment surrounded by rigid dentinal walls. The pulp receives its blood supply solely from the small apical foramen of a tooth root. Due to the unique anatomy that controls nutrition supply, regeneration of pulp tissue in a full-length tooth root has long been a challenge in regenerative endodontics. In this study, we designed and synthesized a multifunctional peptide-conjugated, pH-sensitive, non-viral gene vector for fast revascularization and pulp regeneration in a full-length human tooth root. The multifunctional peptide was designed to have distinctive features, including a cell-penetrating peptide to enhance cellular uptake, a nuclear localization signal peptide to assist in the translocation of an angiogenic gene into the nucleus, and a fluorescent tryptophan residue to visualize and quantify the transfection efficiency. Furthermore, a pH-sensitive dimethylmaleic anhydride (DMA) was integrated with the multifunctional peptide to enhance the transfected gene complex to escape from endosomes/lysosomes after internalization. In vitro experiments showed that the multifunctional non-viral gene vector significantly increased internalization and gene transfection efficiency as well as reduced cytotoxicity. After dental pulp stem cells (DPSCs) were transfected with the multifunctional gene vector/pVEGF complexes, the expression of VEGF from the DPSCs was upregulated for more than eight folds, which in turn greatly enhanced endothelial cell migration and vascular-like tube formation. Six weeks after implantation, the VEGF-transfected DPSCs accelerated new blood vessel formation and the regenerated pulp tissue occupied most of the area in the canal of a full-length human tooth root. The multifunctional peptide conjugated non-viral gene delivery is a safe and effective approach for regenerative endodontics. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Pulp regeneration in a full-length tooth root canal has long been a challenge in regenerative endodontics. This is due to the unique root anatomy that allows the blood supply of the tooth root only from a small apical foramen (< 1 mm), leading to a severe barrier for revascularization during pulp regeneration. In this work, we designed a multifunctional peptide-conjugated, pH-sensitive, non-viral gene vector to address this challenge. Our work shows that the peptide-conjugated system was an excellent carrier for fast revascularization and pulp tissue regeneration in a full-length toot root. This study will interest the multidisciplinary readership in gene delivery, biomaterials, and dental/craniofacial tissue engineering community.