The central hypothesis of functional tissue engineering is that an engineered construct can serve as a viable replacement tissue in vivo by replicating the structure and function of native tissue. In the case of articular cartilage, this requires the reproduction of the bulk mechanical and surface lubrication properties of native hyaline cartilage. Cartilage tissue engineering has primarily focused on achieving the bulk mechanical properties of native cartilage such as the compressive aggregate modulus and tensile strength. A scaffold-free self-assembling process has been developed that produces engineered cartilage with compressive properties approaching native tissue levels. Thus, the next step in this process is to begin addressing the friction coefficient and wear properties of these engineered constructs. The superficial zone protein (SZP), also known as lubricin or PRG4, is a boundary mode lubricant that is synthesized by surface zone (SZ) articular chondrocytes. Under conditions of high loading and low sliding speeds, SZP reduces friction and wear at the articular surface. The objective of this investigation was to determine whether increasing the proportion of SZ chondrocytes in cartilage constructs, in the absence of external stimuli such as growth factors and mechanical loading, would enhance the secretion of SZP and improve their frictional properties. In this study, cartilage constructs were engineered through a self-assembling process with varying ratios of SZ and middle zone (MZ) chondrocytes (SZ:MZ): 0:100, 25:75, 50:50, 75:25, and 100:0. Constructs containing different ratios of SZ and MZ chondrocytes did not significantly differ in the glycosaminoglycan composition or compressive aggregate modulus. In contrast, tensile properties and collagen content were enhanced in nearly all constructs containing greater amounts of SZ chondrocytes. Increasing the proportion of SZ chondrocytes had the hypothesized effect of improving the synthesis and secretion of SZP. However, increasing the SZ chondrocyte fraction did not significantly reduce the friction coefficient. These results demonstrate that additional factors, such as SZP-binding macromolecules, surface roughness, and adhesion, need to be examined to modulate the lubrication properties of engineered cartilage.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biomedical Engineering