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Optimization of Preculture Conditions to Maximize the In Vivo Performance of Cell-Seeded Engineered Intervertebral Discs.


The development of engineered tissues has progressed over the past 20 years from in vitro characterization to in vivo implementation. For musculoskeletal tissue engineering in particular, the emphasis of many of these studies was to select conditions that maximized functional and compositional gains in vitro. However, the transition from the favorable in vitro culture environment to a less favorable in vivo environment has proven difficult, and, in many cases, engineered tissues do not retain their preimplantation phenotype after even short periods in vivo. Our laboratory recently developed disc-like angle-ply structures (DAPS), an engineered intervertebral disc for total disc replacement. In this study, we tested six different preculture media formulations (three serum-containing and three chemically defined, with varying doses of transforming growth factor β3 [TGF-β3] and varying strategies to introduce serum) for their ability to preserve DAPS composition and metabolic activity during the transition from in vitro culture to in vivo implantation in a subcutaneous athymic rat model. We assayed implants before and after implantation to determine collagen content, glycosaminoglycan (GAG) content, metabolic activity, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) characteristics. A chemically defined media condition that incorporated TGF-β3 promoted the deposition of GAG and collagen in DAPS in vitro, the maintenance of accumulated matrix in vivo, and minimal changes in the metabolic activity of cells within the construct. Preculture in serum-containing media (with or without TGF-β3) was not compatible with DAPS maturation, particularly in the nucleus pulposus (NP) region. All groups showed increased collagen production after implantation. These findings define a favorable preculture strategy for the translation of engineered discs seeded with disc cells.