New scaffolds encapsulating TGF-β3/BMP-7 combinations driving strong chondrogenic differentiation

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The regeneration of articular cartilage remains an unresolved question despite the current access to a variety of tissue scaffolds activated with growth factors relevant to this application. Further advances might result from combining more than one of these factors; here, we propose a scaffold composition optimized for the dual delivery of BMP-7 and TGF-β3, two proteins with described chondrogenic activity. First, we tested in a mesenchymal stem cell micromass culture with TGF-β3 whether the exposure to microspheres loaded with BMP-7 would improve cartilage formation. Histology and qRT-PCR data confirmed that the sustained release of BMP-7 cooperates with TGF-β3 towards chondrogenic differentiation. Then, we optimized a scaffold prototype for tissue culture and dual encapsulation of BMP-7 and TGF-β3. The scaffolds were prepared from poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid), and BMP-7/TGF-β3 were loaded as nanocomplexes with heparin and Tetronic 1107. The scaffolds showed the sustained release of both proteins over four weeks, with minimal burst effect. We finally cultured human mesenchymal stem cells on these scaffolds, in the absence of exogenous chondrogenic factor supplementation. The cells cultured on the scaffolds loaded with BMP-7 and TGF-β3 showed clear signs of cartilage formation macroscopically and histologically. RT-PCR studies confirmed a clear upregulation of cartilage markers SOX9 and Aggrecan. In summary, scaffolds encapsulating BMP-7 and TGF-β3 can efficiently deliver a cooperative growth factor combination that drives efficient cartilage formation in human mesenchymal stem cell cultures. These results open attractive perspectives towards in vivo translation of this technology in cartilage regeneration experiments.

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