Activating hidden signals by mimicking cryptic sites in a synthetic extracellular matrix

Yumeng Zhu, Yulia Shmidov, Elizabeth A. Harris, Michelle H. Theus, Ronit Bitton, John B. Matson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cryptic sites are short signaling peptides buried within the native extracellular matrix (ECM). Enzymatic cleavage of an ECM protein reveals these hidden peptide sequences, which interact with surface receptors to control cell behavior. Materials that mimic this dynamic interplay between cells and their surroundings via cryptic sites could enable application of this endogenous signaling phenomenon in synthetic ECM hydrogels. We demonstrate that depsipeptides (“switch peptides”) can undergo enzyme-triggered changes in their primary sequence, with proof-of-principle studies showing how trypsin-triggered primary sequence rearrangement forms the bioadhesive pentapeptide YIGSR. We then engineered cryptic site-mimetic synthetic ECM hydrogels that experienced a cell-initiated gain of bioactivity. Responding to the endothelial cell surface enzyme aminopeptidase N, the inert matrix transformed into an adhesive synthetic ECM capable of supporting endothelial cell growth. This modular system enables dynamic reciprocity in synthetic ECMs, reproducing the natural symbiosis between cells and their matrix through inclusion of tunable hidden signals.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3635
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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