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Connect Tissue Res. 2019 Jul 26:1-15. doi: 10.1080/03008207.2019.1624733. [Epub ahead of print]

Mechanical properties of tissue formed in vivo are affected by 3D-bioplotted scaffold microarchitecture and correlate with ECM collagen fiber alignment.

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a Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, North Carolina State University , Raleigh , NC , USA.
b Comparative Medicine Institute, North Carolina State University , Raleigh , NC , USA.
c Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill , Raleigh , NC , USA.
d Department of Orthopaedics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill , Chapel Hill , NC , USA.


Purpose: Musculoskeletal soft tissues possess highly aligned extracellular collagenous networks that provide structure and strength. Such an organization dictates tissue-specific mechanical properties but can be difficult to replicate by engineered biological substitutes. Nanofibrous electrospun scaffolds have demonstrated the ability to control cell-secreted collagen alignment, but concerns exist regarding their scalability for larger and anatomically relevant applications. Additive manufacturing processes, such as melt extrusion-based 3D-Bioplotting, allow fabrication of structurally relevant scaffolds featuring highly controllable porous microarchitectures. Materials and Methods: In this study, we investigate the effects of 3D-bioplotted scaffold design on the compressive elastic modulus of neotissue formed in vivo in a subcutaneous rat model and its correlation with the alignment of ECM collagen fibers. Polycaprolactone scaffolds featuring either 100 or 400 µm interstrand spacing were implanted for 4 or 12 weeks, harvested, cryosectioned, and characterized using atomic-force-microscopy-based force mapping. Results: The compressive elastic modulus of the neotissue formed within the 100 µm design was significantly higher at 4 weeks (p < 0.05), but no differences were observed at 12 weeks. In general, the tissue stiffness was within the same order of magnitude and range of values measured in native musculoskeletal soft tissues including the porcine meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament. Finally, a significant positive correlation was noted between tissue stiffness and the degree of ECM collagen fiber alignment (p < 0.05) resulting from contact guidance provided by scaffold strands. Conclusion: These findings demonstrate the significant effects of 3D-bioplotted scaffold microarchitectures in the organization and sub-tissue-level mechanical properties of ECM in vivo.


3D printing; atomic force microscopy; elastic modulus; tissue engineering; tissue scaffolds

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