The fibrous porous structure of polymers can mimic the extracellular matrix of the native tissue, therefore such polymers have a good potential for use in regenerative medicine. Organs and tissues within the body exhibit different mechanical properties depending on their functionality, thus artificial scaffolds should have mechanical behaviors similar to the extracellular matrix in conditions like living organisms, primarily in aqueous media. Several methods have been investigated in aquatic environments, including noninvasive techniques based on ultrasonic focused beams for biological objectives. In this study we explored the tensile behavior of poly(L-lactide) nonwoven polymer scaffolds using high-frequency ultrasound microscopy combined with a horizontal testing machine, which provided a visualization of the reorganization and transformation of the dynamic volume microstructure. The mechanisms of unwinding, elongation, orientation, and deformation of polymer fibers under uniaxial tension were revealed. We observed an association between the lined plastic deformation from 100 to 400% and the formation of multiple necks in the fibers, which caused stress relaxation and significant rarefaction of the fibrous microstructure. It was shown that both peaks on the stress-strain curve corresponded to the microstructure of aligned fibers in terms of initial diameter and thinning fibers. We discuss the possible influence of these microstructure transformations on cell behavior.
Keywords: electrospun polymers; mechanical behavior; microstructure; poly(L-lactide); tissue engineering; ultrasonic imaging; volume imaging.