Dual-crosslinked 3D printed gelatin scaffolds with potential for temporomandibular joint cartilage regeneration

Biomedical Materials 2021 Volume 16, Number 3, Article 035026

A promising alternative to current treatment options for degenerative conditions of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is cartilage tissue engineering, using 3D printed scaffolds and mesenchymal stem cells. Gelatin, with its inherent biocompatibility and printability has been proposed as a scaffold biomaterial, but because of its thermoreversible properties, rapid degradation and inadequate strength it must be crosslinked to be stable in physiological conditions. The aim of this study was to identify non-toxic and effective crosslinking methods intended to improve the physical properties of 3D printed gelatin scaffolds for cartilage regeneration. Dehydrothermal (DHT), ribose glycation and dual crosslinking with both DHT and ribose treatments were tested. The crosslinked scaffolds were characterized by chemical, mechanical, and physical analysis. The dual-crosslinked scaffolds had the highest degree of crosslinking and the greatest resistance to hydrolytic and enzymatic degradation. Compared to the dual-crosslinked group, the ribose-crosslinked scaffolds had thinner printed strands, larger pore surface area and higher fluid uptake. The compressive modulus values were 2 kPa for ribose, 37.6 kPa for DHT and 30.9 kPa for dual-crosslinked scaffolds. None of the crosslinking methods had cytotoxic effects on the seeded rat bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (rBMSC). After 4 and 7 d, the dual-crosslinked scaffolds exhibited better cell proliferation than the other groups. Although all scaffolds supported chondrogenic differentiation of rBMSC, dual-crosslinked scaffolds demonstrated the lowest expression of the hypertrophy-related collagen 10 gene after 21 d. The results show that 3D printed gelatin scaffolds, when dually crosslinked with ribose and DHT methods, are not toxic, promote chondrogenic differentiation of rBMSC and have potential application in tissue engineering of TMJ condylar cartilage.