Injured articular cartilage has a limited innate regenerative capacity, due to the avascular nature and low cellularity of the tissue itself. Although several approaches have been proposed to repair the joint cartilage, none of them has proven to be effective. The absence of suitable therapeutic options has encouraged tissue-engineering approaches combining specific cell types and biomaterials. In the present work, we have evaluated the potential of a cell-free Collagen I-based scaffold to promote the augmentation of cartilage-like phenotype after subcutaneous implantation in the mouse. Forty female mice were grafted subcutaneously with scaffolds, while four additional mice without scaffold were used as negative controls. The effects of scaffold were evaluated at 1, 2, 4, 8, or 16 weeks after implantation. Immunohistochemical analysis shows the expression of typical cartilage markers, including type-II Collagen, Aggrecan, Matrilin-1 and Sox 9. These data are also confirmed by qRT-PCR that further show that both COL2A1 and COL1A1 increase over time, but the first one increases more rapidly, thus suggesting a typical cartilage-like address. Histological analysis shows the presence of some pericellular lacunae, after 8 and 16 weeks. Results suggest that this scaffold (i) is biocompatible in vivo, (ii) is able to recruit host cells (iii) induce chondrogenic differentiation of host cells. Such evidences suggest that this cell-free scaffold is promising and represents a potential approach for cartilage regeneration.
Keywords: cartilage regeneration; chondrogenesis; mesenchymal stem cells; scaffold; tissue-engineering.