Collagen and alginate hydrogels support chondrocytes redifferentiation in vitro without supplementation of exogenous growth factors

Tosca Roncada, Gordon Blunn, Marta Roldo

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Focal cartilage defects are a prevalent knee problem affecting people of all ages. Articular cartilage (AC) possesses limited healing potential, and osteochondral defects can lead to pain and long-term complications such as osteoarthritis. Autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI) has been a successful surgical approach for repairing osteochondral defects over the past two decades. However, a major drawback of ACI is the dedifferentiation of chondrocytes during their in vitro expansion. In this study, we isolated ovine chondrocytes and cultured them in a two-dimensional environment for ACI procedures. We hypothesized that 3D scaffolds would support the cells' redifferentiation without the need for growth factors so we encapsulated them into soft collagen and alginate (col/alg) hydrogels. Chondrocytes embedded into the hydrogels were viable and proliferated. After 7 days, they regained their original rounded morphology (aspect ratio 1.08) and started to aggregate. Gene expression studies showed an upregulation of COL2A1, FOXO3A, FOXO1, ACAN, and COL6A1 (37, 1.13, 22, 1123, and 1.08-fold change expression, respectively) as early as day one. At 21 days, chondrocytes had extensively colonized the hydrogel, forming large cell clusters. They started to replace the degrading scaffold by depositing collagen II and aggrecan, but with limited collagen type I deposition. This approach allows us to overcome the limitations of current approaches such as the dedifferentiation occurring in 2D in vitro expansion and the necrotic formation in spheroids. Further studies are warranted to assess long-term ECM deposition and integration with native cartilage. Though limitations exist, this study suggests a promising avenue for cartilage repair with col/alg hydrogel scaffolds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21388–21400
Number of pages13
JournalACS Omega
Issue number19
Early online date4 May 2024
Publication statusPublished - 14 May 2024

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