Redifferentiation of High-Throughput Generated Fibrochondrocyte Micro-Aggregates: Impact of Low Oxygen Tension

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In meniscus tissue engineering strategies, enhancing the matrix quality of the neomeniscal tissue is important. When the differentiated phenotype of fibrochondrocytes is lost, the quality of the matrix becomes compromised. The objective of this study was to produce uniform fibrochondrocyte micro-aggregates with desirable phenotype and tissue homogeneity in large quantities using a simple and reproducible method. Furthermore, we investigated if hypoxia could enhance the matrix quality. Porcine fibrochondrocytes were expanded at 21% oxygen until passage 3 (P3) and a gene expression profile was determined. P3 fibrochondrocytes were cultivated in chondrogenic medium at 5 and 21% oxygen in high-throughput agarose chips containing 2,865 microwells 200 µm in diameter. Evaluation included live/dead staining, histological examination, immunohistochemistry, dimethylmethylene blue assay and real-time reverse transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction of the micro-aggregates. Gene expression analysis showed a drastic decline in collagen II and high expression of collagen I during monolayer culture. After 4 days, uniform and stable micro-aggregates could be produced. The redifferentiation and matrix quality of the hypoxic cultured micro-aggregates were enhanced relative to the normoxic cultures. Sulfated glycosaminoglycan synthesis was significantly higher, and collagen II expression and the collagen II/collagen I ratio were significantly upregulated in the hypoxic cultures. High-throughput production of uniform microtissues holds promise for the generation of larger-scale tissue engineering constructs or optimization of redifferentiation mechanisms for clinical applications.

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