Enhancing the Biomechanical Performance of Anisotropic Nanofibrous Scaffolds in Tendon Tissue Engineering: Reinforcement with Cellulose Nanocrystals

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Anisotropically aligned electrospun nanofibrous scaffolds based on natural/synthetic polymer blends have been established as a reasonable compromise between biological and biomechanical performance for tendon tissue engineering (TE) strategies. However, the limited tensile properties of these biomaterials restrict their application in this field due to the load-bearing nature of tendon/ligament tissues. Herein, the use of cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) as reinforcing nanofillers in aligned electrospun scaffolds based on a natural/synthetic polymer blend matrix, poly-ε-caprolactone/chitosan (PCL/CHT) is reported. The incorporation of small amounts of CNCs (up to 3 wt%) into tendon mimetic nanofiber bundles has a remarkable biomaterial-toughing effect (85% ± 5%,p< 0.0002) and raises the scaffolds mechanical properties to tendon/ligament relevant range (σ = 39.3 ± 1.9 MPa andE= 540.5 ± 83.7 MPa,p< 0.0001). Aligned PCL/CHT/CNC nanocomposite fibrous scaffolds meet not only the mechanical requirements for tendon TE applications but also provide tendon mimetic extracellular matrix (ECM) topographic cues, a key feature for maintaining tendon cell's morphology and behavior. The strategy proposed here may be extended to other anisotropic aligned nanofibrous scaffolds based on natural/synthetic polymer blends and enable the full exploitation of the advantages provided by their tendon mimetic fibrous structures in tendon TE.

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