Thymic epithelial cells (TECs) are the main regulators of T lymphocyte development and selection, requiring a three-dimensional (3D) environment to properly perform these biological functions. The aim of this work was to develop a 3D culture substrate that allows the survival and proliferation of TECs. Thus, electrospun fibrous meshes (eFMs) were functionalized with fibronectin, one of the major extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins of the thymus. For that, highly porous eFMs were activated using oxygen plasma treatment followed by amine insertion, which allows the immobilization of fibronectin through EDC/NHS chemistry.
The medullary TECs presented increased proliferation, viability, and protein synthesis when cultured on fibronectin-functionalized eFMs (FN-eFMs). These cells showed a spread morphology, with increased migration toward the inner layers of FN-eFMs and the production of thymic ECM proteins, such as collagen type IV and laminin. These results suggest that FN-eFMs are an effective substrate for supporting thymic cell cultures.