Background: With regard to its favorable physical properties, silicon nitride ceramic is considered as biomaterial for human medical application. Minor controversy exists about the biocompatibility of the material.
Methods: Cytotoxicity testing, cell viability and morphology assessment was performed applying the L929-mice fibroblast cell culture model in a direct contact assay. Testing materials were silicon nitride ceramics of different surface properties and titanium alloy as a reference. Polyvinylchloride served as a negative control. The cells were stained with bisbenzimide and propidium iodine for double fluorochromasia viability testing, and evaluated by inversion-fluorescence microscopy. Scanning electron microscopy was applied to additionally investigate cell morphology.
Results: No cytotoxic effects were observed on the silicon nitride ceramic samples; moreover cell morphology remained the same as on titanium. Avital cells were present exclusively on PVC. The cell growth in the silicon nitride samples showed no significant differences compared to titanium. Cell counts on all polished surfaces showed significantly higher numbers. Scanning electron microscopy revealed typical fibroblast morphology with filiform extensions.
Conclusion: The current results indicate a favorable biocompatibility of silicon nitride ceramic. Cell growth, viability and morphology are comparable to parameters of titanium. Polished surfaces appear to promote cell growth. Further in vivo studies are mandatory prior to human medical application. Owing to its favorable physiochemical properties, especially its superior resistance to mechanical stress, silicon nitride could serve as a biomaterial for osteosynthesis of bone with mucosal attachment.