Mounting evidence suggests that site-appropriate loading of implanted extracellular matrix (ECM) bioscaffolds and the surrounding microenvironment is an important tissue remodeling determinant, although the role at the cellular level in ECM-mediated skeletal muscle remodeling remains unknown. This study evaluates crosstalk between progenitor cells and macrophages during mechanical loading in ECM-mediated skeletal muscle repair. Myoblasts were exposed to solubilized ECM bioscaffolds and were mechanically loaded at 10% strain, 1 Hz for 5 h. Conditioned media was collected and applied to bone marrow-derived macrophages followed by immunolabeling for proinflammatory M1-like markers and proremodeling M2-like markers. Macrophages were subjected to the same loading protocol and their secreted products were collected for myoblast migration, proliferation, and differentiation analysis. A mouse hind limb unloading volumetric muscle loss model was used to evaluate the effect of loading upon the skeletal muscle microenvironment after ECM implantation. Animals were sacrificed at 14 or 180 days. Isometric torque production was tested and tissue sections were immunolabeled for macrophage phenotype and muscle fiber content. Results show that loading augments the ability of myoblasts to promote an M2-like macrophage phenotype following exposure to ECM bioscaffolds. Mechanically loaded macrophages promote myoblast chemotaxis and differentiation. Lack of weight bearing impaired muscle remodeling as indicated by Masson's Trichrome stain. Isometric torque was significantly increased following ECM implantation when compared to controls, a response not present in the hind limb-unloaded group. This work provides an important mechanistic insight of the effects of rehabilitation upon ECM-mediated remodeling and could have broader implications in clinical practice, advocating multidisciplinary approaches to regenerative medicine, emphasizing rehabilitation.
Keywords: extracellular matrix; macrophage; mechanical loading; volumetric muscle loss.