Volumetric muscle loss (VML) is traumatic or surgical loss of skeletal muscle with resultant functional impairment. Skeletal muscle's innate capacity for regeneration is lost with VML due to a critical loss of stem cells, extracellular matrix, and neuromuscular junctions. Consequences of VML include permanent disability or delayed amputations of the affected limb. Currently, a successful clinical therapy has not been identified. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) possess regenerative and immunomodulatory properties and their three-dimensional aggregation can further enhance therapeutic efficacy. In this study, MSC aggregation into spheroids was optimized in vitro based on cellular viability, spheroid size, and trophic factor secretion. The regenerative potential of the optimized MSC spheroid therapy was then investigated in a murine model of VML injury. Experimental groups included an untreated VML injury control, intramuscular injection of MSC spheroids, and MSC spheroids encapsulated in a fibrin-laminin hydrogel. Compared to the untreated VML group, the spheroid encapsulating hydrogel group enhanced myogenic marker (i.e., MyoD and myogenin) protein expression, improved muscle mass, increased presence of centrally nucleated myofibers as well as small fibers (<500 μm2 ), modulated pro- and anti-inflammatory macrophage marker expression (i.e., iNOS and Arginase), and increased the presence of CD146+ pericytes and CD31+ endothelial cells in the VML injured muscles. Future studies will evaluate the extent of functional recovery with the spheroid encapsulating hydrogel therapy.
Keywords: extracellular matrix; hydrogels; volumetric muscle loss.
© 2021 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.