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With the development of tissue engineering, enhanced tendon regeneration could be achieved by exploiting suitable cell types and biomaterials. The accessibility, robust cell amplification ability, superior tendon differentiation potential, and immunomodulatory effects of human periodontal ligament stem cells (hPDLSCs) indicate their potential as ideal seed cells for tendon tissue engineering. Nevertheless, there are currently no reports of using PDLSCs as seed cells. Previous studies have confirmed the potential of silk scaffold for tendon tissue engineering. However, the biomimetic silk scaffold with tendon extracellular matrix (ECM)-like structure has not been systematically studied for in situ tendon regeneration. Therefore, this study aims to evaluate the effects of hPDLSCs and biomimetic silk scaffold on in situ tendon regeneration.


Human PDLSCs were isolated from extracted wisdom teeth. The differentiation potential of hPDLSCs towards osteo-, chondro-, and adipo-lineage was examined by cultured in different inducing media. Aligned and random silk scaffolds were fabricated by the controlled directional freezing technique. Scaffolds were characterized including surface structure, water contact angle, swelling ratio, degradation speed and mechanical properties. The biocompatibility of silk scaffolds was evaluated by live/dead staining, SEM observation, cell proliferation determination and immunofluorescent staining of deposited collagen type I. Subsequently, hPDLSCs were seeded on the aligned silk scaffold and transplanted into the ruptured rat Achilles tendon. Scaffolds without cells served as control groups. After 4 weeks, histology evaluation was carried out and macrophage polarization was examined to check the repair effects and immunomodulatory effects.


Human PDLSCs were successfully isolated, and their multi-differentiation potential was confirmed. Compared with random scaffold, aligned silk scaffold had more elongated and aligned pores and promoted the proliferation and ordered arrangement of hPDLSCs. After implantation into rat Achilles tendon defect, hPDLSCs seeded aligned silk scaffold enhanced tendon repair with more tendon-like tissue formation after 4 weeks, as compared to the scaffold-only groups. Higher expression of CD206 and lower expression of iNOS, IL-1β and TNF-α were found in the hPDLSCs seeded aligned silk scaffold group, which revealed its modulation effect of macrophage polarization from M1 to M2 phenotype.


In summary, this study demonstrates the efficacy of hPDLSCs as seed cells and aligned silk scaffold as a tendon-mimetic scaffold for enhanced tendon tissue engineering, which may have broad implications for future tendon tissue engineering and regenerative medicine researches.

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