In regenerative neurobiology, Ciliary Neurotrophic Factor (CNTF) is raising high interest as a multifunctional neurocytokine, playing a key role in the regeneration of injured peripheral nerves. Despite its promising trophic and regulatory activity, its clinical application is limited by the onset of severe side effects, due to the lack of efficient intracellular trafficking after administration. In this study, recombinant CNTF linked to the transactivator transduction domain (TAT) was investigated in vitro and found to be an optimized fusion protein which preserves neurotrophic activity, besides enhancing cellular uptake for therapeutic advantage. Moreover, a compelling protein delivery method was defined, in the future perspective of improving nerve regeneration strategies. Following determination of TAT-CNTF molecular weight and concentration, its specific effect on neural SH-SY5Y and PC12 cultures was assessed. Cell proliferation assay demonstrated that the fusion protein triggers PC12 cell growth within 6 h of stimulation. At the same time, the activation of signal transduction pathway and enhancement of cellular trafficking were found to be accomplished in both neural cell lines after specific treatment with TAT-CNTF. Finally, the recombinant growth factor was successfully loaded on oxidized polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) scaffolds, and more efficiently released when polymer oxidation rate increased.
Taken together, our results highlight that the TAT domain addiction to the protein sequence preserves CNTF specific neurotrophic activity in vitro, besides improving cellular uptake. Moreover, oxidized PVA could represent an ideal biomaterial for the development of nerve conduits loaded with the fusion protein to be delivered to the site of nerve injury.