Fibrocartilage tissue engineering: the role of the stress environment on cell morphology and matrix expression.
Although much is known about the effects of uniaxial mechanical loading on fibrocartilage development, the stress fields to which fibrocartilaginous regions are subjected to during development are mutiaxial. That fibrocartilage develops at tendon-to-bone attachments and in compressive regions of tendons is well established. However, the three-dimensional (3D) nature of the stresses needed for the development of fibrocartilage is not known. Here, we developed and applied an in vitro system to determine whether fibrocartilage can develop under a state of periodic hydrostatic tension in which only a single principal component of stress is compressive. This question is vital to efforts to mechanically guide morphogenesis and matrix expression in engineered tissue replacements. Mesenchymal stromal cells in a 3D culture were exposed to compressive and tensile stresses as a result of an external tensile hydrostatic stress field. The stress field was characterized through mechanical modeling. Tensile cyclic stresses promoted spindle-shaped cells, upregulation of scleraxis and type one collagen, and cell alignment with the direction of tension. Cells experiencing a single compressive stress component exhibited rounded cell morphology and random cell orientation. No difference in mRNA expression of the genes Sox9 and aggrecan was observed when comparing tensile and compressive regions unless the medium was supplemented with the chondrogenic factor transforming growth factor beta3. In that case, Sox9 was upregulated under static loading conditions and aggrecan was upregulated under cyclic loading conditions. In conclusion, the fibrous component of fibrocartilage could be generated using only mechanical cues, but generation of the cartilaginous component of fibrocartilage required biologic factors in addition to mechanical cues. These studies support the hypothesis that the 3D stress environment influences cell activity and gene expression in fibrocartilage development.