European cells & materials

Induction of mesenchymal stem cell differentiation and cartilage formation by cross-linker-free collagen microspheres.

PMID 25179212


Because of poor self-healing ability, joint cartilage can undergo irreversible degradation in the course of various diseases or after injury. A promising approach for cartilage engineering consists of using of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) and a differentiation factor combined with an injectable carrier biomaterial. We describe here a novel synthesis route for native collagen microspheres that does not involve the use of potentially toxic crosslinking agents. An emulsion was formed between a type I collagen solution and perfluorinated oil, stabilised by a biocompatible triblock perfluorinated copolymer surfactant. Spherical microparticles of fibrillar collagen were formed through a sol-gel transition induced by ammonia vapours. Electron microscopy observations showed that these self-cross-linked microspheres were constituted by a gel of striated collagen fibrils. Microspheres that were loaded with transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β)3 progressively released this differentiation factor over a four weeks period. Human MSC rapidly adhered to TGF-β3-loaded microspheres and, after 21xa0d of culture, exhibited typical chondrocyte morphology and produced an uncalcified matrix made of the predominant cartilage components, aggrecan and type II collagen, but devoid of the hypertrophic marker type X collagen. Subcutaneous co-injection of MSC and TGF-β3-loaded microspheres in mice consistently led to the formation of a cartilage-like tissue, which was however hypertrophic, calcified and vascularised. In conclusion, we developed cross-linker free collagen microspheres that allowed chondrogenic differentiation of MSC in vitro and in vivo.