A correct articular cartilage ultrastructure regarding its structural components and cellularity is important for appropriate performance of tissue-engineered articular cartilage. Various scaffold-based, as well as scaffold-free, culture models have been under development to manufacture functional cartilage tissue. Even decellularized tissues have been considered as a potential choice for cellular seeding and tissue fabrication. Pore size, interconnectivity, and functionalization of the scaffold architecture can be varied. Increased mechanical function requires a dense scaffold, which also easily restricts cellular access within the scaffold at seeding. High pore size enhances nutrient transport, while small pore size improves cellular interactions and scaffold resorption. In scaffold-free cultures, the cells assemble the tissue completely by themselves; in optimized cultures, they should be able to fabricate native-like tissue. Decellularized cartilage has a native ultrastructure, although it is a challenge to obtain proper cellular colonization during cell seeding. Bioprinting can, in principle, provide the tissue with correct cellularity and extracellular matrix content, although it is still an open question as to how the correct molecular interaction and structure of extracellular matrix could be achieved. These are challenges facing the ongoing efforts to manufacture optimal articular cartilage.
Keywords: articular cartilage; cartilage architecture; cell colonization; extracellular matrix; tissue engineering.