Stem Cell Res Ther. 2023 Aug 30;14(1):226. doi: 10.1186/s13287-023-03459-5.
BACKGROUND: Articular cartilage (AC)’s main function is to resist to a stressful mechanical environment, and chondrocytes are responding to mechanical stress for the development and homeostasis of this tissue. However, current knowledge on processes involved in response to mechanical stimulation is still limited. These mechanisms are commonly investigated in engineered cartilage models where the chondrocytes are included in an exogeneous biomaterial different from their natural extracellular matrix. The aim of the present study is to better understand the impact of mechanical stimulation on mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs)-derived chondrocytes generated in their own extracellular matrix.
METHODS: A fluidic custom-made device was used for the mechanical stimulation of cartilage micropellets obtained from human MSCs by culture in a chondrogenic medium for 21 days. Six micropellets were positioned into the conical wells of the device chamber and stimulated with different signals of positive pressure (amplitude, frequency and duration). A camera was used to record the sinking of each micropellet into their cone, and micropellet deformation was analyzed using a finite element model. Micropellets were harvested at different time points after stimulation for RT-qPCR and histology analysis.
RESULTS: Moderate micropellet deformation was observed during stimulation with square pressure signals as mean von Mises strains between 6.39 and 14.35% were estimated for amplitudes of 1.75-14 kPa superimposed on a base pressure of 50% of the amplitude. The compression, tension and shear observed during deformation did not alter micropellet microstructure as shown by histological staining. A rapid and transient increase in the expression of chondrocyte markers (SOX9, AGG and COL2B) was measured after a single 30-min stimulation with a square pressure signal of 3.5 kPa amplitude superimposed on a minimum pressure of 1.75 kPa, at 1 Hz. A small change of 1% of cyclical deformations when using a square pressure signal instead of a constant pressure signal induced a fold change of 2 to 3 of chondrogenic gene expression. Moreover, the expression of fibrocartilage (COL I) or hypertrophic cartilage (COL X, MMP13 and ADAMTS5) was not significantly regulated, except for COL X.
CONCLUSIONS: Our data demonstrate that the dynamic deformation of cartilage micropellets by fluidic-based compression modulates the expression of chondrocyte genes responsible for the production of a cartilage-like extracellular matrix. This lays the foundations for further investigating the chondrocyte mechanobiology and the cartilage growth under mechanical stimulation.