Introduction: Macrophage-driven inflammation is a key feature of the early period following tendon repair, but excessive inflammation has been associated with poor clinical outcomes. Modulation of the inflammatory environment using molecular or cellular treatments may provide a means to enhance tendon healing.
Methods: To examine the effect of pro-inflammatory cytokines secreted by macrophages on tendon fibroblasts (TF), we established in vitro models of cytokine and macrophage-induced inflammation. Gene expression, protein expression, and cell viability assays were used to examine TF responses. In an effort to reduce the negative effects of inflammatory cytokines on TFs, adipose-derived mesenchymal stromal cells (ASCs) were incorporated into the model and their ability to modulate inflammation was investigated.
Results: The inflammatory cytokine interleukin 1 beta (IL-1β) and macrophages of varying phenotypes induced up-regulation of pro-inflammatory factors and matrix degradation factors and down-regulation of factors related to extracellular matrix formation by TFs in culture. ASCs did not suppress these presumably negative effects induced by IL-1β. However, ASC co-culture with M1 (pro-inflammatory) macrophages successfully suppressed the effects of M1 macrophages on TFs by inducing a phenotypic switch from a pro-inflammatory macrophage phenotype to an anti-inflammatory macrophage phenotype, thus resulting in exposure of TFs to lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (e.g., IL-1β, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα)).
Conclusions: These findings suggest that IL-1β and M1 macrophages are detrimental to tendon healing and that ASC-mediated modulation of the post-operative inflammatory response may be beneficial for tendon healing.