Current biomaterial-based strategies explored to treat articular cartilage defects have failed to provide adequate physico-chemical cues in order to guide functional tissue regeneration. Here, it is hypothesized that atmospheric-pressure plasma (APPJ) treatment and melt electrowriting (MEW) will produce microfiber support structures with covalently-immobilized transforming growth factor beta-1 (TGFβ1) that can stimulate the generation of functional cartilage tissue. The effect of APPJ operational speeds to activate MEW polycaprolactone meshes for immobilization of TGFβ1 is first investigated and chondrogenic differentiation and neo-cartilage production are assessed in vitro. All APPJ speeds test enhanced hydrophilicity of the meshes, with the slow treatment speed having significantly less CC/CH and more COOH than the untreated meshes. APPJ treatment increases TGFβ1 loading efficiency. Additionally, in vitro experiments highlight that APPJ-based TGFβ1 attachment to the scaffolds is more advantageous than direct supplementation within the medium. After 28 days of culture, the group with immobilized TGFβ1 has significantly increased compressive modulus (more than threefold) and higher glycosaminoglycan production (more than fivefold) than when TGFβ1 is supplied through the medium. These results demonstrate that APPJ activation allows reagent-free, covalent immobilization of TGFβ1 on microfiber meshes and, importantly, that the biofunctionalized meshes can stimulate neo-cartilage matrix formation. This opens new perspectives for guided tissue regeneration.
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