Engineered biomechanical microenvironment of articular chondrocytes based on heterogeneous GelMA hydrogel composites and dynamic mechanical compression
Tissue-engineered articular cartilage constructs are currently not able to equal native tissues in terms of mechanical and biological properties. A major cause lies in the deficiency in engineering the biomechanical microenvironment (BMME) of articular chondrocytes. In this work, to engineer the BMME of articular chondrocytes, heterogeneous hydrogel structures of gelatin methacrylated (GelMA) containing differential-stiffness domains were first fabricated, and then periodic dynamic mechanical stimulations were applied to the hydrogel structures. The chondrocyte phenotype of ATDC5 cells was enhanced as the spatial differentiation in stiffness was increased in the hydrogel structures and was further strengthened by dynamic mechanical stimulation. It was speculated that the mechanical signals generated by the engineered BMME were sensed by the cells through the integrin β1-FAK signaling pathway. This study revealed the key role of the combined effects of differential and dynamic BMME on the chondrocyte phenotype, which could provide theoretical guidance for highly active tissue-engineered articular cartilage.