Complementary strategies to promote the regeneration of bone-ligament transitions using graded electrospun scaffolds

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Virginia Tech

Grafts currently used for the repair of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures integrate poorly with bone due to a significant mismatch in properties between graft and bone. Specifically, conventional grafts (e.g., hamstring tendon) are unable to recapitulate intricate gradients in mechano-chemical properties and extracellular matrix (ECM) architecture found at natural bone-ligament (B-L) transitions, and thus result in stress-concentrations at the graft-bone interface leading to graft failure. In contrast, tissue-engineered scaffolds possessing gradients in properties can potentially guide the establishment of phenotypic gradients in bone marrow stromal cells (BMSCs), and thus aid the regeneration of B-L transitions in the long-term. Towards the eventual goal of regenerating complex tissue transitions, this project employs three complementary strategies to fabricate graded scaffolds. The three strategies involve the presentation of gradients in 1) mineral content, 2) scaffold architecture and 3) growth factor (GF) concentration within scaffolds to control BMSC morphology and phenotype.

The first strategy involved co-electrospinning two polymers (one doped with hydroxyapatite) from offset spinnerets onto a rotating drum to produce scaffolds possessing a gradient in mineral content. Post-electrospinning, these graded scaffolds were treated with a simulated body fluid to further enhance the gradient. Analysis of mRNA expression of osteoblastic makers by BMSCs and the deposition of bone-specific ECM proteins indicated that the scaffolds could guide the formation of an osteoblastic phenotypic gradient. The second strategy involved electrospinning two polymer solutions onto a custom-designed dual-drum collector to fabricate scaffolds possessing region-wise differences in fiber alignment, diameter and chemistry. Specifically, electrospinning onto the dual-drum collector resulted in the deposition of aligned fibers from one polymer solution in the gap region between the drums, randomly oriented fibers from the other polymer solution on one of the drums and a mixture of fibers from both polymer solutions in the overlap region in between. The topographical cues within these scaffolds were shown to result in region-dependent BMSC morphology and orientation. Although the long-term goal of the third strategy was to create a co-electrospun scaffold possessing a gradient in GF concentration, a new technique to protect GF activity within electrospun scaffolds via the use of gelatin microspheres was first validated. Preliminary results from these studies indicate that microspheres can protect and deliver a model protein (lysozyme) in active conformation from electrospun scaffolds. These results further suggest that gradients of GF concentration can be achieved in the long-term by protecting GFs within microspheres and co-electrospinning as described in the first strategy.

In conclusion, the results from this project suggest that graded scaffolds can help guide the formation of gradients in cell morphology, orientation and phenotype, and thus potentially promote the regeneration of B-L transitions in the long-term. The three strategies described in this project can be employed in concert to create scaffolds intended for the regeneration of complex tissue transitions.

bone-ligament transition, graded scaffold, electrospinning, hydroxyapatite, contact guidance, growth factor