Dynamic hyaluronic acid hydrogel with covalent linked gelatin as an anti-oxidative bioink for cartilage tissue engineering

Biofabrication 2021 Volume 14, Number 1, Article 014107

In the past decade, cartilage tissue engineering has arisen as a promising therapeutic option for degenerative joint diseases, such as osteoarthritis, in the hope of restoring the structure and physiological functions. Hydrogels are promising biomaterials for developing engineered scaffolds for cartilage regeneration. However, hydrogel-delivered mesenchymal stem cells or chondrocytes could be exposed to elevated levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the inflammatory microenvironment after being implanted into injured joints, which may affect their phenotype and normal functions and thereby hinder the regeneration efficacy. To attenuate ROS induced side effects, a multifunctional hydrogel with an innate anti-oxidative ability was produced in this study. The hydrogel was rapidly formed through a dynamic covalent bond between phenylboronic acid grafted hyaluronic acid (HA-PBA) and poly(vinyl alcohol) and was further stabilized through a secondary crosslinking between the acrylate moiety on HA-PBA and the free thiol group from thiolated gelatin. The hydrogel is cyto-compatible and injectable and can be used as a bioink for 3D bioprinting. The viscoelastic properties of the hydrogels could be modulated through the hydrogel precursor concentration. The presence of dynamic covalent linkages contributed to its shear-thinning property and thus good printability of the hydrogel, resulting in the fabrication of a porous grid construct and a meniscus like scaffold at high structural fidelity. The bioprinted hydrogel promoted cell adhesion and chondrogenic differentiation of encapsulated rabbit adipose derived mesenchymal stem cells. Meanwhile, the hydrogel supported robust deposition of extracellular matrix components, including glycosaminoglycans and type II collagen, by embedded mouse chondrocytes in vitro. Most importantly, the hydrogel could protect encapsulated chondrocytes from ROS induced downregulation of cartilage-specific anabolic genes (ACAN and COL2) and upregulation of a catabolic gene (MMP13) after incubation with H2O2. Furthermore, intra-articular injection of the hydrogel in mice revealed adequate stability and good biocompatibility in vivo. These results demonstrate that this hydrogel can be used as a novel bioink for the generation of 3D bioprinted constructs with anti-ROS ability to potentially enhance cartilage tissue regeneration in a chronic inflammatory and elevated ROS microenvironment.