Articular cartilage functions to maintain joint mobility. The loss of healthy, functional articular cartilage due to osteoarthritis or injury can severely compromise quality of life. To address this issue, cartilage tissue engineering approaches are currently in development. Bone marrow-derived mesenchymal progenitor cells (MPCs) hold much promise as an alternative cell source for cartilage tissue engineering and other cell-based cartilage repair approaches. While previous studies have established that MPCs from humans and a number of other species undergo in vitro chondrogenic differentiation, additional research is needed to define conditions that will enhance chondrogenic differentiation of MPCs, increase matrix production by differentiating cultures, and further support development of functional tissue-engineered cartilage constructs. Mechanical loading may be an important factor regulating chondrogenic differentiation of MPCs and cartilage matrix formation by chondrogenic MPCs. This thesis work evaluated the influence of oscillatory unconfined compressive mechanical loading on in vitro MPC chondrogenic activity and biosynthesis within hydrogel suspension.
Loading was conducted using MPCs cultured in media supplements supporting chondrogenic differentiation, thereby enabling the evaluation of distinct MPC cultures based upon the time of loading initiation. Possible interactions between the number of days in chondrogenic media preceding loading initiation and the ability of the MPC culture to respond to mechanical stimulation were explored in two different loading studies. The first loading study investigated the effects of 3 hour periods of daily oscillatory mechanical stimulation on subsequent chondrogenic activity, where chondrogenic activity represented an assessment of cartilage matrix production by differentiating MPCs focusing on proteoglycan synthesis and sGAG accumulation. This study found that oscillatory compression of MPCs initiated during the first seven days of culture did not enhance chondrogenic activity above the level supported by media supplements alone. The second loading study evaluated changes in biosynthesis during a single 20 hour period of oscillatory mechanical stimulation to assess mechanoresponsiveness of the MPC cultures. This study found that MPCs modulated proteoglycan and protein synthesis in a culture time-dependent and frequency-dependent manner upon application of oscillatory compression. Together the two loading studies provide an assessment of dynamic compressive mechanical loading influences on MPC cultures undergoing chondrogenic differentiation. The information gained through in vitro studies of differentiating MPC cultures will increase basic knowledge about progenitor cells and may also prove valuable in guiding the future development of cartilage tissue engineering approaches.
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