Tissue engineering a model for the human ear: assessment of size, shape, morphology, and gene expression following seeding of different chondrocytes
This study examines the tissue engineering of a human ear model through use of bovine chondrocytes isolated from four different cartilaginous sites (nasoseptal, articular, costal, and auricular) and seeded onto biodegradable poly(l-lactic acid) and poly(L-lactide-epsilon-caprolactone) (50 : 50) polymer ear-shaped scaffolds. After implantation in athymic mice for up to 40 weeks, cell/scaffold constructs were harvested and analyzed in terms of size, shape, histology, and gene expression. Gross morphology revealed that all the tissue-engineered cartilages retained the initial human auricular shape through 40 weeks of implantation. Scaffolds alone lost significant size and shape over the same period. Quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction demonstrated that the engineered chondrocyte/scaffolds yielded unique expression patterns for type II collagen, aggrecan, and bone sialoprotein mRNA. Histological analysis showed type II collagen and proteoglycan to be the predominant extracellular matrix components of the various constructs sampled at different implantation times. Elastin was also present but it was found only in constructs seeded with auricular chondrocytes. By 40 weeks of implantation, tissue-engineered cartilage of costal origin became calcified, marked by a notably high relative gene expression level of bone sialoprotein and the presence of rigid, nodular protrusions formed by mineralizing rudimentary cartilaginous growth plates. The collective data suggest that nasoseptal, articular, and auricular cartilages represent harvest sites suitable for development of tissue-engineered human ear models with retention over time of three-dimensional construct architecture, gene expression, and extracellular matrix composition comparable to normal, nonmineralizing cartilages. Calcification of constructs of costal chondrocyte origin clearly shows that chondrocytes from different tissue sources are not identical and retain distinct characteristics and that these specific cells are inappropriate for use in engineering a flexible ear model.