This study explored the biologic response of chondrocytes and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to a dynamic mechanical loading regime. We developed a time-efficient methodology for monitoring regional changes in extracellular matrix gene transcription using reporter promoter constructs. Specifically, transfected cells were homogenously distributed throughout agarose hydrogel constructs, and spatial and temporal gene expression and the ability to form functional ECM were analyzed in response to dynamic mechanical stimuli. Theoretical analyses were used to predict the physical signals generated within the gel in response to these loading regimes. Using a custom compression bioreactor system, changes in aggrecan and type II collagen promoter activity in transfected chondrocyte-laden cylindrical constructs were evaluated in response to a range of loading frequencies and durations. In general, aggrecan promoter activity increased with increasing duration of loading, particularly in the outer annulus region. Interestingly, type II collagen promoter activity decreased in this annular region under identical loading conditions. In addition, we explored the role of mechanical compression in directing chondrogenic differentiation of MSCs by monitoring short-term aggrecan promoter activity. As an example of long-term utility, a specific loading protocol was applied to MSC-laden constructs for 5 days, and the resultant changes in glycosaminoglycan (GAG) production were evaluated over a 4-week period. This dynamic loading regime increased not only short-term aggrecan transcriptional activity but also GAG deposition in long-term culture. These results demonstrate the utility of a new reporter promoter system for optimizing loading protocols to improve the outcome of engineered chondrocyte- and MSC-laden cartilaginous constructs.
Cartilage Explants; Reporter Promoter; Outer Annulus; Free Swell; sGAG Content