ABSTRACT In order to contribute to the development of minimally invasive surgery techniques for autologous chondrocyte implantation, a novel self-assembling biomaterial consisting of thermoresponsive poly(N-isopropylacrylamide)-grafted hyaluronan (PNIPAAm-g-HA) has been synthesized as an injectable scaffold for cartilage tissue engineering. The aim of this study was to investigate the efficacy and cytocompatibility of PNIPAAm-g-HA to normal chondrocytes by using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis and histochemical staining in preliminary in vitro and in vitro experiments. Hematoxylin and eosin staining showed homogeneous distribution of cells in the PNIPAAm-g-HA hydrogel in 3-dimensional in vitro cultivation. Alcian blue staining also indicated that abundant extracellular matrix formation, including acidic glycosaminoglycans, occurred in tissue-engineered cartilage over time in vitro. Cartilage-related gene expression patterns, which were tested in rabbit normal chondrocytes embedded in the hydrogel, were almost maintained for 4 weeks. Transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1) stimulation enhanced the expression of SRY-related HMG box-containing gene 9 (Sox9) and type X collagen genes suggesting promotion of chondrogenic differentiation. Histochemical evaluation showed neocartilage formation following subcutaneous implantation of the chondrocyte-gel mixture in nude mice. Furthermore, TGF-β1 stimulation promoted production and maturation of the extracellular matrix of the in situ tissue engineered hyaline cartilage. These data suggested that PNIPAAm-g-HA could be a promising biomaterial, i.e., a self-assembling and injectable scaffold for cartilage tissue engineering.
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