Human adult, pediatric and microtia auricular cartilage harbor fibronectin-adhering progenitor cells with regenerative ear reconstruction potential

Iris A.Otto, Paulina Nuñez Bernal, Margot Rikkers, Mattie H.P. van Rijen, Anneloes Mensinga, Moshe Kon, Corstiaan C. Breugem, Riccardo Levato, Jos Malda

Published: 16 September 2022


Remaining challenges in auricular cartilage tissue engineering include acquiring sufficient amounts of regeneration-competent cells and subsequent production of high-quality neocartilage. Progenitor cells are a resident subpopulation of native cartilage, displaying a high proliferative and cartilage-forming capacity, yet their potential for regenerative medicine is vastly understudied. In this study, human auricular cartilage progenitor cells were newly identified in healthy cartilage and, importantly, in microtia-impaired chondral remnants. Their cartilage repair potential was assessed via in vitro 3D culture upon encapsulation in a gelatin-based hydrogel, and subsequent biochemical, mechanical, and histological analyses. Auricular cartilage progenitor cells demonstrate a potent ability to proliferate without losing their multipotent differentiation ability and to produce cartilage-like matrix in 3D culture. As these cells can be easily obtained through a non-deforming biopsy of the healthy ear or from the otherwise redundant microtia remnant, they can provide an important solution for long-existing challenges in auricular cartilage tissue engineering.

Graphical abstract

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