The selection of an appropriate scaffold represents one major key to success in tissue engineering. In cardiovascular applications, where a load-bearing structure is required, scaffolds need to demonstrate sufficient mechanical properties and importantly, reliable retention of these properties during the developmental phase of the tissue engineered construct. The effect of in vitro culture conditions, time and mechanical loading on the retention of mechanical properties of two scaffold types was investigated. First candidate tested was a poly-glycolic acid non-woven fiber mesh, coated with poly-4-hydroxybutyrate (PGA/P4HB), the standard scaffold used successfully in cardiovascular tissue engineering applications. As an alternative, an electrospun poly-epsilon-caprolactone (PCL) scaffold was used. A 15-day dynamic loading protocol was applied to the scaffolds. Additionally, control scaffolds were incubated statically. All studies were performed in a simulated physiological environment (phosphate-buffered saline solution, T = 37C). PGA/P4HB scaffolds showed a dramatic decrease in mechanical properties as a function of incubation time and straining. Mechanical loading had a significant effect on PCL scaffold properties. Degradation as well as fiber fatigue caused by loading promote loss of mechanical properties in PGA/P4HB scaffolds. For PCL, fiber reorganization due to straining seems to be the main reason behind the brittle behavior that was pronounced in these scaffolds. It is suggested that those changes in scaffolds' mechanical properties must be considered at the application of in vitro tissue engineering protocols and should ideally be taken over by tissue formation to maintain mechanically stable tissue constructs.
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