Natural biopolymers have found success in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications. Their intrinsic biocompatibility and biological activity make them well suited for biomaterials development. Specifically, keratin-based biomaterials have demonstrated utility in regenerative medicine applications including bone regeneration, wound healing, and nerve regeneration. However, studies of structure-function relationships in keratin biomaterials have been hindered by the lack of homogeneous preparations of materials extracted and isolated from natural sources such as wool and hair fibers. Here we present a side-by-side comparison of natural and recombinant human hair keratin proteins K31 and K81. When combined, the recombinant proteins (i.e. rhK31 and rhK81) assemble into characteristic intermediate filament-like fibers. Coatings made from natural and recombinant dimers were compared side-by-side and investigated for coating characteristics and cell adhesion. In comparison to control substrates, the recombinant keratin materials show a higher propensity for inducing involucrin and hence, maturation in terms of potential skin cell differentiation.
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