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J Mech Behav Biomed Mater. 2012 Jul;11:92-101. doi: 10.1016/j.jmbbm.2012.03.006. Epub 2012 Mar 24.

Transient exposure to TGF-β3 improves the functional chondrogenesis of MSC-laden hyaluronic acid hydrogels.

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McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Tissue engineering with adult stem cells is a promising approach for the restoration of focal defects in articular cartilage. For this, progenitor cells would ideally be delivered to (and maintained within) the defect site via a biocompatible material and in combination with soluble factors to promote initial cell differentiation and subsequent tissue maturation in vivo. While growth factor delivery methods are continually being optimized, most offer only a short (days to weeks) delivery profile at high doses. To address this issue, we investigated mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) differentiation and maturation in photocrosslinkable hyaluronic acid (HA) hydrogels with transient exposure to the pro-chondrogenic molecule transforming growth factor-beta3 (TGF-β3), at varying doses (10, 50 and 100 ng/mL) and durations (3, 7, 21 and 63 days). Mechanical, biochemical, and histological outcomes were evaluated through 9 weeks of culture. Results showed that a brief exposure (7 days) to a very high level (100 ng/mL) of TGF-β3 was sufficient to both induce and maintain cartilage formation in these 3D constructs. Indeed, this short delivery resulted in constructs with mechanical and biochemical properties that exceeded that of continuous exposure to a lower level (10 ng/mL) of TGF-β3 over the entire 9-week time course. Of important note, the total TGF delivery in these two scenarios was roughly equivalent (200 vs. 180 ng), but the timing of delivery differed markedly. These data support the idea that acute exposure to a high dose of TGF will induce functional and long-term differentiation of stem cell populations, and further our efforts to improve cartilage repair in vivo.

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