Production of tissue-engineered cartilage involves the synthesis and accumulation of key constituents such as glycosaminoglycan (GAG) and collagen type II to form insoluble extracellular matrix (ECM). During cartilage culture, macromolecular components are released from nascent tissues into the medium, representing a significant waste of biosynthetic resources. This work was aimed at developing strategies for improving ECM retention in cartilage constructs and thus the quality of engineered tissues produced in bioreactors. Human chondrocytes seeded into polyglycolic acid (PGA) scaffolds were cultured in perfusion bioreactors for up to 5 weeks. Analysis of the size and integrity of proteoglycans in the constructs and medium showed that full-sized aggrecan was being stripped from the tissues without proteolytic degradation. Application of low (0.075 mL min(-1)) and gradually increasing (0.075-0.2 mL min(-1)) medium flow rates in the bioreactor resulted in the generation of larger constructs, a 4.0-4.4-fold increase in the percentage of GAG retained in the ECM, and a 4.8-5.2-fold increase in GAG concentration in the tissues compared with operation at 0.2 mL min(-1). GAG retention was also improved by pre-culturing seeded scaffolds in flasks for 5 days prior to bioreactor culture. In contrast, GAG retention in PGA scaffolds infused with alginate hydrogel did not vary significantly with medium flow rate or pre-culture treatment. This work demonstrates that substantial improvements in cartilage quality can be achieved using scaffold and bioreactor culture strategies that specifically target and improve ECM retention.
Shahin, K., & Doran, P. M. (2011). Strategies for enhancing the accumulation and retention of extracellular matrix in tissue-engineered cartilage cultured in bioreactors. PLoS ONE, 6(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0023119