Acta biomaterialia

Enhanced nutrient transport improves the depth-dependent properties of tri-layered engineered cartilage constructs with zonal co-culture of chondrocytes and MSCs.

PMID 28629894


Biomimetic design in cartilage tissue engineering is a challenge given the complexity of the native tissue. While numerous studies have generated constructs with near-native bulk properties, recapitulating the depth-dependent features of native tissue remains a challenge. Furthermore, limitations in nutrient transport and matrix accumulation in engineered constructs hinders maturation within the central core of large constructs. To overcome these limitations, we fabricated tri-layered constructs that recapitulate the depth-dependent cellular organization and functional properties of native tissue using zonally derived chondrocytes co-cultured with MSCs. We also introduced porous hollow fibers (HFs) and HFs/cotton threads to enhance nutrient transport. Our results showed that tri-layered constructs with depth-dependent organization and properties could be fabricated. The addition of HFs or HFs/threads improved matrix accumulation in the central core region. With HF/threads, the local modulus in the deep region of tri-layered constructs nearly matched that of native tissue, though the properties in the central regions remained lower. These constructs reproduced the zonal organization and depth-dependent properties of native tissue, and demonstrate that a layer-by-layer fabrication scheme holds promise for the biomimetic repair of focal cartilage defects. Articular cartilage is a highly organized tissue driven by zonal heterogeneity of cells, extracellular matrix proteins and fibril orientations, resulting in depth-dependent mechanical properties. Therefore, the recapitulation of the functional properties of native cartilage in a tissue engineered construct requires such a biomimetic design of the morphological organization, and this has remained a challenge in cartilage tissue engineering. This study demonstrates that a layer-by-layer fabrication scheme, including co-cultures of zone-specific articular CHs and MSCs, can reproduce the depth-dependent characteristics and mechanical properties of native cartilage while minimizing the need for large numbers of chondrocytes. In addition, introduction of a porous hollow fiber (combined with a cotton thread) enhanced nutrient transport and depth-dependent properties of the tri-layered construct. Such a tri-layered construct may provide critical advantages for focal cartilage repair. These constructs hold promise for restoring native tissue structure and function, and may be beneficial in terms of zone-to-zone integration with adjacent host tissue and providing more appropriate strain transfer after implantation.