An in vitro study of collagen hydrogel to induce the chondrogenic differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells

Li Zhang, Tun Yuan, Likun Guo, Xingdong Zhang
Journal of Biomedical Materials Research. Part A 2012, 100 (10): 2717-25
It is controversial whether a biomaterial itself, rather than addition of any exogenous growth factor, could induce mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to differentiate into chondrogenic lineage, further to regenerate cartilage. Previous studies have shown that collagen-based hydrogel could induce MSCs to differentiate into chondrocytes in vivo but the in vitro studies only have a few reports. The evidence that biomaterials could induce chondrogenesis is not adequate. In this study, we tried to address whether type I collagen hydrogel has chondro-inductive capability in vitro and how this scaffold induces MSCs to generate cartilage tissue without exogenous growth factors in the culture medium. We encapsulated neonatal rabbit bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (BMSCs) in type I collagen hydrogel homogeneously or implanted cell aggregates in hydrogel, and cultured them in nonchondrogenic inductive media. After at least 28 days culture, cells in the homogeneous group were tending to chondrogenic differentiation while cell density was high, and cells in the aggregate group have almost gone through chondrogenesis and formed neo-cartilage tissue with abundant specific extracellular matrix (ECM) deposition. These results indicate collagen hydrogel has inherent inductivity for the chondrogenic differentiation of BMSCs, and the optimum specification and tissue formation were accompanied with local high cell density. This research suggests a feasible strategy to induce the chondro differentiation of BMSCs independent of exogenous growth factors, which may greatly contribute to clinical cartilage regeneration.

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