Heparin functionalization increases retention of TGF-β2 and GDF5 on biphasic silk fibroin scaffolds for tendon/ligament-to-bone tissue engineering

Sònia Font Tellado, Silvia Chiera, Walter Bonani, Patrina S P Poh, Claudio Migliaresi, Antonella Motta, Elizabeth R Balmayor*, Martijn van Griensven

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

63 Citations (Web of Science)


The tendon/ligament-to-bone transition (enthesis) is a highly specialized interphase tissue with structural gradients of extracellular matrix composition, collagen molecule alignment and mineralization. These structural features are essential for enthesis function, but are often not regenerated after injury. Tissue engineering is a promising strategy for enthesis repair. Engineering of complex tissue interphases such as the enthesis is likely to require a combination of biophysical, biological and chemical cues to achieve functional tissue regeneration. In this study, we cultured human primary adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (AdMCs) on biphasic silk fibroin scaffolds with integrated anisotropic (tendon/ligament-like) and isotropic (bone/cartilage like) pore alignment. We functionalized those scaffolds with heparin and explored their ability to deliver transforming growth factor β2 (TGF-β2) and growth/differentiation factor 5 (GDF5). Heparin functionalization increased the amount of TGF-β2 and GDF5 remaining attached to the scaffold matrix and resulted in biological effects at low growth factor doses. We analyzed the combined impact of pore alignment and growth factors on AdMSCs. TGF-β2 and pore anisotropy synergistically increased the expression of tendon/ligament markers and collagen I protein content. In addition, the combined delivery of TGF-β2 and GDF5 enhanced the expression of cartilage markers and collagen II protein content on substrates with isotropic porosity, whereas enthesis markers were enhanced in areas of mixed anisotropic/isotropic porosity. Altogether, the data obtained in this study improves current understanding on the combined effects of biological and structural cues on stem cell fate and presents a promising strategy for tendon/ligament-to-bone regeneration.

STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Regeneration of the tendon/ligament-to-bone interphase (enthesis) is of significance in the repair of ruptured tendons/ligaments to bone to improve implant integration and clinical outcome. This study proposes a novel approach for enthesis regeneration based on a biomimetic and integrated tendon/ligament-to-bone construct, stem cells and heparin-based delivery of growth factors. We show that heparin can keep growth factors local and biologically active at low doses, which is critical to avoid supraphysiological doses and associated side effects. In addition, we identify synergistic effects of biological (growth factors) and structural (pore alignment) cues on stem cells. These results improve current understanding on the combined impact of biological and structural cues on the multi-lineage differentiation capacity of stem cells for regenerating complex tissue interphases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-166
Number of pages17
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Publication statusPublished - May 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Adipose Tissue/cytology
  • Fibroins/chemistry
  • Growth Differentiation Factor 5/chemistry
  • Humans
  • Ligaments
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells/cytology
  • Tendons
  • Tissue Engineering
  • Tissue Scaffolds/chemistry
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta2/chemistry
  • Growth/differentiation factor 5
  • Silk fibroin
  • Tissue engineering
  • Enthesis
  • Transforming growth factor beta 2
  • Heparin

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