Scaffolds fabricated from cartilage extracellular matrix provide a chondroinductive environment that stimulates cartilaginous matrix synthesis in a variety of cell types. A limitation of these cartilage-derived matrix (CDM) scaffolds is that they contract during in vitro culture, which unpredictably alters their shape. The current study examined the hypothesis that collagen crosslinking techniques could inhibit cell-mediated contraction of CDM scaffolds. We analyzed the effects of dehydrothermal (DHT) treatment, ultraviolet light irradiation (UV), and the chemical crosslinker carbodiimide (CAR) on scaffold contraction and chondrogenic differentiation of adult human bone marrow-derived stem cells (MSCs). Both physical and chemical crosslinking treatments retained the original scaffold dimensions. DHT and UV treatments produced significantly higher glycosaminoglycan and collagen contents than CAR crosslinked and non-crosslinked constructs. Crosslinking treatments influenced the composition of newly synthesized matrix, and DHT treatment best matched the composition of native cartilage. DHT, UV, and non-crosslinked CDM films supported cell attachment, while CAR crosslinking inhibited cell adhesion. These results affirm that collagen crosslinking treatments can prevent cell-mediated contraction of CDM scaffolds. Interestingly, crosslinking treatments influence chondrogenic differentiation. These effects seem to be mediated by modifications to cell-matrix interactions between MSCs and the CDM; however, further work is necessary to elucidate the specific mechanisms involved in this process.
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