Effects of VEGF loading on scaffold-confined vascularization

Adequate vascularization of tissue-engineered constructs remains a major challenge in bone grafting. In view of this, we loaded ß-tricalcium-phosphate (ß-TCP) and porous poly(L-lactide-co-glycolide) (PLGA) scaffolds via collagen coating with vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and studied whether the VEGF loading improves scaffold angiogenesis and vascularization. Dorsal skinfold chambers were implanted into 48 balb/c mice, which were assigned to 6 groups (n = 8 each). Uncoated (controls), collagen-coated, and additionally VEGF-loaded PLGA and ß-TCP scaffolds were inserted into the chambers. Angiogenesis, neovascularization, and leukocyte-endothelial cell interaction were analyzed repeatedly during a 14-day observation period using intravital fluorescence microscopy. Furthermore, VEGF release from PLGA und ß-TCP scaffolds was studied by ELISA. Micromorphology was studied from histological specimens. Unloaded ß-TCP scaffolds showed an accelerated and increased angiogenic response when compared with unloaded PLGA scaffolds. In vitro, PLGA released significantly higher amounts of VEGF compared with ß-TCP at the first two days resulting in a rapid drop of the released amount at the following days up to day 7 where the VEGF release was negligible. Nonetheless, in vivo VEGF loading increased neovascularization, especially in ß-TCP scaffolds. This increased vascularization was associated with a temporary leukocytic response with pronounced leukocyte-endothelial cell interaction at days 3 and 6. Histology revealed adequate host tissue response and engraftment of both ß-TCP and PLGA scaffolds. Our study demonstrates that ß-TCP scaffolds offer more suitable conditions for vascularization than PLGA scaffolds, in particular if they are loaded with VEGF.