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Tissue Eng Part A. 2012 Nov;18(21-22):2365-75. doi: 10.1089/ten.TEA.2011.0727. Epub 2012 Jul 25.

Modulation of mesenchymal stem cell shape in enzyme-sensitive hydrogels is decoupled from upregulation of fibroblast markers under cyclic tension.

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Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Tech/Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia 30332, USA.


Our laboratory has developed a tensile culture bioreactor as a system for understanding mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) differentiation toward a tendon/ligament fibroblast phenotype in response to cyclic tensile strain. In this study, we investigated whether increased degradability of the biomaterial carrier would induce changes in MSC morphology and subsequent upregulation of tendon/fibroblast markers under tensile strain. Degradability of a synthetic poly(ethylene glycol) hydrogel was introduced by incorporating either fast- or slow-degrading matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-sensitive peptide sequences into the polymer backbone. Although a decline in cellularity was observed over culture in all sample groups, at 14 days, MSCs were significantly more spread in fast-cleaving gels (84%±8%) compared with slow-cleaving gels (59%±4%). Cyclic tensile strain upregulated tendon/ligament fibroblast-related genes, such as collagen III (3.8-fold vs. 2.1-fold in fast-degrading gels) and tenascin-C (2.5-fold vs. 1.7-fold in fast-degrading gels). However, few differences were observed in gene expression between different gel types. Immunostaining demonstrated increased collagen III deposition in dynamically strained gels at day 14, as well as increased collagen I and tenascin-C deposition at day 14 in all groups. Results suggest that cell spreading may not be a major factor controlling MSC response to cyclic strain in this system over 14 days. However, these findings provide key parameters for the design of future biomaterial carriers and strain regimens to prime stem cells to a tendon/ligament phenotype prior to release and use in vivo.

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