Self-assembling peptide hydrogel fosters chondrocyte extracellular matrix production and cell division: Implications for cartilage tissue repair
Emerging medical technologies for effective and lasting repair of articular cartilage include delivery of cells or cell-seeded scaffolds to a defect site to initiate de novo tissue regeneration. Biocompatible scaffolds assist in providing a template for cell distribution and extracellular matrix (ECM) accumulation in a three-dimensional geometry. A major challenge in choosing an appropriate scaffold for cartilage repair is the identification of a material that can simultaneously stimulate high rates of cell division and high rates of cell synthesis of phenotypically specific ECM macromolecules until repair evolves into steady-state tissue maintenance. We have devised a self-assembling peptide hydrogel scaffold for cartilage repair and developed a method to encapsulate chondrocytes within the peptide hydrogel. During 4 weeks of culture in vitro, chondrocytes seeded within the peptide hydrogel retained their morphology and developed a cartilage-like ECM rich in proteoglycans and type II collagen, indicative of a stable chondrocyte phenotype. Time-dependent accumulation of this ECM was paralleled by increases in material stiffness, indicative of deposition of mechanically functional neo-tissue. Taken together, these results demonstrate the potential of a self-assembling peptide hydrogel as a scaffold for the synthesis and accumulation of a true cartilage-like ECM within a three-dimensional cell culture for cartilage tissue repair.