The application of cell-derived extracellular matrix (ECM) in tissue engineering has gained increasing interest because it can provide a naturally occurring, complex set of physiologically functional signals for cell growth. The ECM scaffolds produced from decellularized fibroblast cell sheets contain high amounts of ECM substances, such as collagen, elastin, and glycosaminoglycans. They can serve as cell adhesion sites and mechanically strong supports for tissue-engineered constructs. An efficient method that can largely remove cellular materials while maintaining minimal disruption of ECM ultrastructure and content during the decellularization process is critical. In this study, three decellularization methods were investigated: high concentration (0.5 wt%) of sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS), low concentration (0.05 wt%) of SDS, and freeze-thaw cycling method. They were compared by characterization of ECM preservation, mechanical properties, in vitro immune response, and cell repopulation ability of the resulted ECM scaffolds. The results demonstrated that the high SDS treatment could efficiently remove around 90% of DNA from the cell sheet, but significantly compromised their ECM content and mechanical strength. The elastic and viscous modulus of the ECM decreased around 80% and 62%, respectively, after the high SDS treatment. The freeze-thaw cycling method maintained the ECM structure as well as the mechanical strength, but also preserved a large amount of cellular components in the ECM scaffold. Around 88% of DNA was left in the ECM after the freeze-thaw treatment. In vitro inflammatory tests suggested that the amount of DNA fragments in ECM scaffolds does not cause a significantly different immune response. All three ECM scaffolds showed comparable ability to support in vitro cell repopulation. The ECM scaffolds possess great potential to be selectively used in different tissue engineering applications according to the practical requirement.
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