The insufficient load-bearing capacity of today’s tissue- engineered (TE) cartilage limits its clinical application. Generally, cartilage TE studies aim to increase the extracellular matrix (ECM) content, as this is thought to determine the load-bearing properties of the cartilage. However, there are apparent inconsistencies in the literature regarding the correlation between ECM content and mechanical properties of TE constructs. In addition to the amount of ECM, the spatial inhomogeneities in ECM distribution at the tissue scale as well as at the cell scale may affect the mechanical properties of TE cartilage. The relative importance of such structural inhomogeneities on mechanical behavior of TE cartilage is unknown. The aim of the present study was, therefore, to theoretically elucidate the influence of these inhomogeneities on the mechanical behavior of chondrocyte-agarose TE constructs. A validated non-linear fiber-reinforced poro-elastic swelling cartilage model that can accommodate for effects of collagen reinforcement and swelling by proteoglycans was used. At the tissue scale, ECM was gradually varied from predominantly localized in the periphery of the TE construct toward an ECM-rich inner core. The effect of these inhomogeneities in relation to the total amount of ECM was also evaluated. At the cell scale, ECM was gradually varied from localized in the pericellular area, toward equally distributed throughout the interterritorial area. Results from the tissue-scale model indicated that localization of ECM in either the construct periphery or in the inner core may reduce construct stiffness compared with that of constructs with homogeneous ECM. Such effects are more significant at high ECM amounts. At the cell scale, localization of ECM around the cells significantly reduced the overall stiffness, even at low ECM amounts. The compressive stiffness gradually increased when ECM distribution became more homogeneous and the osmotic swelling pressure in the interterritorial area increased. We conclude that for the same amount of ECM content in TE cartilage constructs, superior mechanical properties can be achieved with more homogeneous ECM distribution at both tissue and cell scale. Inhomogeneities at the cell scale are more important than those at the tissue scale.
Khoshgoftar, M., Wilson, W., Ito, K., & Donkelaar, van, C. C. (2013). Influence of tissue- and cell-scale extracellular matrix distribution on the mechanical properties of tissue engineered cartilage. Biomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology, 12(5), 901-913. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10237-012-0452-1