Towards optimizing the growth of extracellular matrix to produce repair cartilage for healing articular cartilage (AC) defects in joints, scaffold-based tissue engineering approaches have recently become a focus of clinical research. Scaffold-based approaches by electrospinning aim to support the differentiation of chondrocytes by providing an ultrastructure similar to the fibrillar meshwork in native cartilage. In a first step, we demonstrate how the blending of chitosan with poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO) allows concentrated chitosan solution to become electrospinnable. The chitosan-based scaffolds share the chemical structure and characteristics of glycosaminoglycans, which are important structural components of the cartilage extracellular matrix. Electrospinning produced nanofibrils of ∼100 nm thickness that are closely mimicking the size of collagen fibrils in human AC. The polymer scaffolds were stabilized in physiological conditions and their stiffness was tuned by introducing the biocompatible natural crosslinker genipin. We produced scaffolds that were crosslinked with 1.0% genipin to obtain values of stiffness that were in between the stiffness of the superficial zone human AC of 600 ± 150 kPa and deep zone AC of 1854 ± 483 kPa, whereas the stiffness of 1.5% genipin crosslinked scaffold was similar to the stiffness of deep zone AC. The scaffolds were degradable, which was indicated by changes in the fibril structure and a decrease in the scaffold stiffness after seven months. Histological and immunohistochemical analysis after three weeks of culture with human articular chondrocytes (HACs) showed a cell viability of over 90% on the scaffolds and new extracellular matrix deposited on the scaffolds.
* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.