Cells actively probe the stiffness of their surrounding and respond to it. The authors recently found that maintenance of the chondrogenic phenotype was directly influenced by this property in 2D. Since studies about this process in 3D are still largely absent, this study aimed to transfer this knowledge into a 3D environment. Agarose was modified with RGD to allow active stiffness sensing or RGE as a control. Hydrogels with different mechanical properties were produced by using different concentrations of agarose. Primary chondrocytes were incorporated into the gel, cultured for up to two weeks, and then constructs were analyzed. Cells were surrounded by their own ECM from an early stage and maintained their chondrogenic phenotype, independent of substrate composition, as indicated by a high collagen type II and a lack of collagen type I production. However, softer gels showed higher DNA and GAG content and larger cell clusters than stiff gels in both RGD- and RGE-modified agarose. The authors hypothesize that matrix elasticity in the tested range does not influence the maintenance of the chondrogenic phenotype in 3D but rather the size of the formed cell ECM clusters. The deviation of these findings from previous results in 2D stresses the importance of moving towards 3D systems that more closely mimic in vivo conditions.
|Journal of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine
|Published - 11.2012