Biologic scaffold materials composed of extracellular matrix (ECM) are typically derived by processes that involve decellularization of tissues or organs. Preservation of the complex composition and three-dimensional ultrastructure of the ECM is highly desirable but it is recognized that all methods of decellularization result in disruption of the architecture and potential loss of surface structure and composition. Physical methods and chemical and biologic agents are used in combination to lyse cells, followed by rinsing to remove cell remnants. Effective decellularization methodology is dictated by factors such as tissue density and organization, geometric and biologic properties desired for the end product, and the targeted clinical application. Tissue decellularization with preservation of ECM integrity and bioactivity can be optimized by making educated decisions regarding the agents and techniques utilized during processing. An overview of decellularization methods, their effect upon resulting ECM structure and composition, and recently described perfusion techniques for whole organ decellularization techniques are presented herein.
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