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The Effect of Neonatal, Juvenile, and Adult Donors on Rejuvenated Neocartilage Functional Properties


Cartilage does not naturally heal, and cartilage lesions from trauma and wear-and-tear can lead to eventual osteoarthritis. To address long-term repair, tissue engineering of functional biologic implants to treat cartilage lesions is desirable, but the development of such implants is hindered by several limitations, including (1) donor tissue scarcity due to the presence of diseased tissues in joints, (2) dedifferentiation of chondrocytes during expansion, and (3) differences in functional output of cells dependent on donor age. Toward overcoming these challenges, (1) costal cartilage has been explored as a donor tissue, and (2) methods have been developed to rejuvenate the chondrogenic phenotype of passaged chondrocytes for generating self-assembled neocartilage. However, it remains unclear how the rejuvenation processes are influenced by donor age and, thus, how to develop strategies that specifically target age-related differences. Using histological, biochemical, proteomic, and mechanical assays, this study sought to determine the differences among neocartilage generated from neonatal, juvenile, and adult donors using the Yucatan minipig, a clinically relevant large animal model. Based on the literature, a relatively young adult population of animals was chosen due to a reduction in functional output of human articular chondrocytes after 40 years of age. After isolation, costal chondrocytes were expanded, rejuvenated, and self-assembled, and the neocartilages were assessed. The aggregate modulus values of neonatal constructs were at least 1.65-fold of those from the juvenile or adult constructs. Poisson's ratio also significantly differed among all groups, with neonatal constructs exhibiting values 49% higher than adult constructs. Surprisingly, other functional properties such as tensile modulus and glycosaminoglycan content did not significantly differ among groups. Total collagen content was slightly elevated in the adult constructs compared to neonatal and juvenile constructs. A more nuanced view using bottom-up mass spectrometry showed that Col2a1 protein was not significantly different among groups, but protein content of several other collagen subtypes (i.e., Col1a1, Col9a1, Col11a2, and Col12a1) was modulated by donor age. For example, Col12a1 protein content in adult constructs was found to be 102.9% higher than neonatal-derived constructs. Despite these differences, this study shows that different aged donors can be used to generate neocartilages of similar functional properties. Impact statement Tissue-engineered neocartilage can be generated with functional properties that mimic native cartilage tissue. However, cell sourcing challenges hinder clinical translation of tissue-engineered cartilage. Chondrocytes can be expanded and rejuvenated for the generation of functional self-assembled cartilage, making an allogeneic approach feasible. However, it is currently unclear if donor age impacts functional properties. In this study, using the Yucatan minipig as a clinically relevant large animal model, we demonstrate that functional properties of self-assembled neocartilage are relatively consistent regardless of donor age, suggesting that a wider range of donor ages may be used for cartilage tissue engineering than previously expected.

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