Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) hold great promise for the treatment of cartilage related injuries. However, selectively promoting stem cell differentiation in vivo is still challenging. Chondrogenic differentiation of MSCs usually requires the use of growth factors that lead to the overexpression of hypertrophic markers. In this study, for the first time the effect of stiffness on MSC differentiation has been tested without the use of growth factors. Three-dimensional collagen and alginate scaffolds were developed and characterised. Stiffness significantly affected gene expression and ECM deposition. While, all hydrogels supported chondrogenic differentiation and allowed deposition of collagen type II and aggrecan, the 5.75 kPa hydrogel showed limited production of collagen type I compared to the other two formulations. These findings demonstrated for the first time that stiffness can guide MSCs differentiation without the use of growth factors within a tissue engineering scaffold suitable for the treatment of cartilage defects.
- cartilage regeneration