Adult cartilage tissue has limited self-repair capacity, especially in the case of severe damages caused by developmental abnormalities, trauma, or aging-related degeneration like osteoarthritis.
Adult mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have the potential to differentiate into cells of different lineages including bone, cartilage, and fat.
In vitro cartilage tissue engineering using autologous MSCs and three-dimensional (3-D) porous scaffolds has the potential for the successful repair of severe cartilage damage.
Ideally, scaffolds designed for cartilage tissue engineering should have optimal structural and mechanical properties, excellent biocompatibility, controlled degradation rate, and good handling characteristics.
In the present work, a novel, highly porous silk scaffold was developed by an aqueous process according to these criteria and subsequently combined with MSCs for in vitro cartilage tissue engineering.
Chondrogenesis of MSCs in the silk scaffold was evident by real-time RT-PCR analysis for cartilage-specific ECM gene markers, histological and immunohistochemical evaluations of cartilage-specific ECM components.
Dexamethasone and TGF-beta3 were essential for the survival, proliferation and chondrogenesis of MSCs in the silk scaffolds.
The attachment, proliferation, and differentiation of MSCs in the silk scaffold showed unique characteristics.
After 3 weeks of cultivation, the spatial cell arrangement and the collagen type-II distribution in the MSCs-silk scaffold constructs resembles those in native articular cartilage tissue, suggesting promise for these novel 3-D degradable silk-based scaffolds in MSC-based cartilage repair.
Further in vivo evaluation is necessary to fully recognize the clinical relevance of these observations.