Research in bone tissue engineering is focused on the development of alternatives to allogenic and autologous bone grafts that can stimulate bone healing. Here, we present scaffolds composed of the natural hydrophilic polysaccharides pullulan and dextran, supplemented or not with nanocrystalline hydroxyapatite particles (nHA). In vitro studies revealed that these matrices induced the formation of multicellular aggregates and expression of early and late bone specific markers with human bone marrow stromal cells in medium deprived of osteoinductive factors. In absence of any seeded cells, heterotopic implantation in mice and goat, revealed that only the composite macroporous scaffold (Matrix + nHA) (i) retained subcutaneously local growth factors, including Bone Morphogenetic Protein 2 (BMP2) and VEGF165, (ii) induced the deposition of a biological apatite layer, (iii) favored the formation of a dense mineralized tissue subcutaneously in mice, as well osteoid tissue after intramuscular implantation in goat. The composite scaffold was thereafter implanted in orthotopic preclinical models of critical size defects, in small and large animals, in three different bony sites, i.e. the femoral condyle of rat, a transversal mandibular defect and a tibial osteotomy in goat. The Matrix + nHA induced a highly mineralized tissue in the three models whatever the site of implantation, as well as osteoid tissue and bone tissue regeneration in direct contact to the matrix. We therefore propose this composite matrix as a material for stimulating bone cell differentiation of host mesenchymal stem cells and bone formation for orthopedic and maxillofacial surgical applications.
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