BACKGROUND: In tissue engineering (TE) strategies, cell processes are regulated by mechanical stimuli. Although TE scaffolds have been developed to replicate tissue-level mechanical properties, it is intractable to experimentally measure and prescribe the cellular micromechanical environment (CME) generated within these constructs. Accordingly, this study aimed to fill this lack of understanding by modeling the CME in TE scaffolds using the finite element method.
METHODS: A repeating unit of composite fiber scaffold for annulus fibrosus (AF) repair with a fibrin hydrogel matrix was prescribed a series of loading, material, and architectural parameters. The distribution of CME in the scaffold was predicted and compared to proposed target mechanics based on anabolic responses of AF cells.
RESULTS: The multi-axial loading modality predicted the greatest percentage of cell volumes falling within the CME target envelope (%PTE) in the study (65 %PTE for 5.0% equibiaxial tensile strain with 50 kPa radial-direction compression; 7.6 %PTE without radial pressure). Additionally, the architectural scale had a moderate influence on the CME (maximum of 17 %PTE), with minimal change in the tissue-level properties of the scaffold. Scaffold materials and architectures had secondary influences on the predicted regeneration by modifying the tissue-level scaffold mechanics.
CONCLUSIONS: Scaffold loading modality was identified as the critical factor for TE the AF. Scaffold materials and architecture were also predicted to modulate the scaffold loading and, therefore, control the CME indirectly. This study facilitated an improved understanding of the relationship between tissue-level and cell-level mechanics to drive anabolic cell responses for tissue regeneration.