Articular cartilage has a very limited regeneration capacity. Therefore, injury or degeneration of articular cartilage results in an inferior mechanical stability, load-bearing capacity, and lubrication capability. Here, we developed a biomimetic scaffold consisting of macroporous polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) sponges as a platform material for the incorporation of cell-embedded photocrosslinkable poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA), PEGDA-methacrylated chondroitin sulfate (PEGDA-MeCS; PCS), or PEGDA-methacrylated hyaluronic acid (PEGDA-MeHA; PHA) within its pores to improve in vitro chondrocyte functions and subsequent in vivo
ectopic cartilage tissue formation. Our findings demonstrated that chondrocytes encapsulated in PCS or PHA and loaded into macroporous PVA hybrid scaffolds maintained their physiological phenotypes during in vitro
culture, as shown by the upregulation of various chondrogenic genes. Further, the cell-secreted extracellular matrix (ECM) improved the mechanical properties of the PVA-PCS and PVA-PHA hybrid scaffolds by 83.30% and 73.76%, respectively, compared to their acellular counterparts. After subcutaneous transplantation in vivo, chondrocytes on both PVA-PCS and PVA-PHA hybrid scaffolds significantly promoted ectopic cartilage tissue formation, which was confirmed by detecting cells positively stained with Safranin-O and for type II collagen. Consequently, the mechanical properties of the hybrid scaffolds were biomimetically reinforced by 80.53% and 210.74%, respectively, compared to their acellular counterparts. By enabling the recapitulation of biomimetically relevant structural and functional properties of articular cartilage and the regulation of in vivo mechanical reinforcement mediated by cell–matrix interactions, this biomimetic material offers an opportunity to control the desired mechanical properties of cell-laden scaffolds for cartilage tissue regeneration.
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