Abstract One major limitation hindering the translation of in vitro osteoarthritis research into clinical disease-modifying therapies is that chondrocytes rapidly spread and dedifferentiate under standard monolayer conditions. Current strategies to maintain rounded morphologies of chondrocytes in culture either unnaturally restrict adhesion and place chondrocytes in an excessively stiff mechanical environment or are impractical for use in many applications. To address the limitations of current techniques, we have developed a unique composite thin-film cell culture platform, the CellWell, to model articular cartilage that utilizes micropatterned hemispheroidal wells, precisely sized to fit individual cells (12–18 μm diameters), to promote physiologically spheroidal chondrocyte morphologies while maintaining compatibility with standard cell culture and analytical techniques. CellWells were constructed of 15-μm-thick 5% agarose films embedded with electrospun poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA) nanofibers. Transmission electron microscope (TEM) images of PVA nanofibers revealed a mean diameter of 60.9 ± 24 nm, closely matching the observed 53.8 ± 29 nm mean diameter of human ankle collagen II fibers. Using AFM nanoindentation, CellWells were found to have compressive moduli of 158 ± 0.60 kPa at 15 μm/s indentation, closely matching published stiffness values of the native pericellular matrix. Primary human articular chondrocytes taken from ankle cartilage were seeded in CellWells and assessed at 24 h. Chondrocytes maintained their rounded morphology in CellWells (mean aspect ratio of 0.87 ± 0.1 vs three-dimensional (3D) control [0.86 ± 0.1]) more effectively than those seeded under standard conditions (0.65 ± 0.3), with average viability of >85%. The CellWell’s design, with open, hemispheroidal wells in a thin film substrate of physiological stiffness, combines the practical advantages of two-dimensional (2D) culture systems with the physiological advantages of 3D systems. Through its ease of use and ability to maintain the physiological morphology of chondrocytes, we expect that the CellWell will enhance the clinical translatability of future studies conducted using this culture platform.
Updated: Apr 29, 2020