Glucosamine (GlcN) fulfills many of the requirements as an ideal component in scaffolds used in cartilage tissue engineering. The incorporation of GlcN in a gelatin/hyaluronic acid (GH) cryogel scaffold could provide biological cues in maintaining the phenotype of chondrocytes. Nonetheless, substituting gelatin with GlcN may also decrease the crosslinking density and modulate the mechanical properties of the cryogel scaffold, which may be beneficial as physical cues for chondrocytes in the scaffold. Thus, we prepared cryogel scaffolds containing 9% GlcN (GH-GlcN9) and 16% GlcN (GH-GlcN16) by carbodiimide-mediated crosslinking reactions at −16 °C. The crosslinking density and the mechanical properties of the cryogel matrix could be tuned by adjusting the content of GlcN used during cryogel preparation. In general, incorporation of GlcN did not influence scaffold pore size and ultimate compressive strain but increased porosity. The GH-GlcN16 cryogel showed the highest swelling ratio and degradation rate in hyaluronidase and collagenase solutions. On the contrary, the Young’s modulus, storage modulus, ultimate compressive stress, energy dissipation level, and rate of stress relaxation decreased by increasing the GlcN content in the cryogel. The release of GlcN from the scaffolds in the culture medium of chondrocytes could be sustained for 21 days for GH-GlcN16 in contrast to only 7 days for GH-GlcN9. In vitro cell culture experiments using rabbit articular chondrocytes revealed that GlcN incorporation affected cell proliferation, morphology, and maintenance of chondrogenic phenotype. Overall, GH-GlcN16 showed the best performance in maintaining chondrogenic phenotype with reduced cell proliferation rate but enhanced glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and type II collagen (COL II) secretion. Quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction also showed time-dependent up-regulation of cartilage-specific marker genes (COL II, aggrecan and Sox9) for GH-GlcN16. Implantation of chondrocytes/GH-GlcN16 constructs into full-thickness articular cartilage defects of rabbits could regenerate neocartilage with positive staining for GAGs and COL II. The GH-GlcN16 cryogel will be suitable as a scaffold for the treatment of articular cartilage defects.
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