Scaffold Pore Geometry Guides Gene Regulation and Bone-like Tissue Formation in Dynamic Cultures

Marina Rubert, Jolanda Rita Vetsch, Iina Lehtoviita, Marianne Sommer, Feihu Zhao, André R. Studart, Ralph Müller, and Sandra Hofmann

Published: 1 September 2021


Cells sense and respond to scaffold pore geometry and mechanical stimuli. Many fabrication methods used in bone tissue engineering render structures with poorly controlled pore geometries. Given that cell–scaffold interactions are complex, drawing a conclusion on how cells sense and respond to uncontrolled scaffold features under mechanical loading is difficult. In this study, monodisperse templated scaffolds (MTSC) were fabricated and used as well-defined porous scaffolds to study the effect of dynamic culture conditions on bone-like tissue formation. Human bone marrow-derived stromal cells were cultured on MTSC or conventional salt-leached scaffolds (SLSC) for up to 7 weeks, either under static or dynamic conditions (wall shear stress [WSS] using spinner flask bioreactors). The influence of controlled spherical pore geometry of MTSC subjected to static or dynamic conditions on osteoblast cell differentiation, bone-like tissue formation, structure, and distribution was investigated. WSS generated within the two idealized geometrical scaffold features was assessed. Distinct response to fluid flow in osteoblast cell differentiation were shown to be dependent on scaffold pore geometry. As revealed by collagen staining and microcomputed tomography images, dynamic conditions promoted a more regular extracellular matrix (ECM) formation and mineral distribution in both scaffold types compared with static conditions. The results showed that regulation of bone-related genes and the amount and the structure of mineralized ECM were dependent on scaffold pore geometry and the mechanical cues provided by the two different culture conditions. Under dynamic conditions, SLSC favored osteoblast cell differentiation and ECM formation, whereas MTSC enhanced ECM mineralization. The spherical pore shape in MTSC supported a more trabecular bone-like structure under dynamic conditions compared with MTSC statically cultured or to SLSC under either static or dynamic conditions. These results suggest that cell activity and bone-like tissue formation is driven not only by the pore geometry but also by the mechanical environment. This should be taken into account in the future design of complex scaffolds, which should favor cell differentiation while guiding the formation, structure, and distribution of the engineered bone tissue. This could help to mimic the anatomical complexity of the bone tissue structure and to adapt to each bone defect needs.

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