Mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs) are under examination for use in cell therapies to repair bone defects resulting from trauma or disease. MSCs secrete proangiogenic cues and can be induced to differentiate into bone-forming osteoblasts, yet there is limited evidence that these events can be achieved in parallel. Manipulation of the cell delivery vehicle properties represents a candidate approach for directing MSC function in bone healing.
We hypothesized that the biophysical properties of a fibrin gel could simultaneously regulate the proangiogenic and osteogenic potential of entrapped MSCs. Fibrin gels were formed by supplementation with NaCl (1.2, 2.3, and 3.9% w/v) to modulate gel biophysical properties without altering protein concentrations. MSCs entrapped in 1.2% w/v NaCl gels were the most proangiogenic in vitro, yet cells in 3.9% w/v gels exhibited the greatest osteogenic response. Compared to the other groups, MSCs entrapped in 2.3% w/v gels provided the best balance between proangiogenic potential, osteogenic potential, and gel contractility. The contribution of MSCs to bone repair was then examined when deployed in 2.3% w/v NaCl gels and implanted into an irradiated orthotopic bone defect. Compared to acellular gels after 3 weeks of implantation, defects treated with MSC-loaded fibrin gels exhibited significant increases in vessel density, early osteogenesis, superior morphology, and increased cellularity of repair tissue. Defects treated with MSC-loaded gels exhibited increased bone formation after 12 weeks compared to blank gels.
These results confirm that fibrin gel properties can be modulated to simultaneously promote both the proangiogenic and osteogenic potential of MSCs, and fibrin gels modified by supplementation with NaCl are promising carriers for MSCs to stimulate bone repair in vivo.