Comparison of cellular architecture, axonal growth, and blood vessel formation through cell-loaded polymer scaffolds in the transected rat spinal cord

Nicolas N Madigan, Bingkun K Chen, Andrew M Knight, Gemma E Rooney, Eva Sweeney, Lisa Kinnavane, Michael J Yaszemski, Peter Dockery, Timothy O'Brien, Siobhan S McMahon, Anthony J Windebank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


The use of multichannel polymer scaffolds in a complete spinal cord transection injury serves as a deconstructed model that allows for control of individual variables and direct observation of their effects on regeneration. In this study, scaffolds fabricated from positively charged oligo[poly(ethylene glycol)fumarate] (OPF(+)) hydrogel were implanted into rat spinal cords following T9 complete transection. OPF(+) scaffold channels were loaded with either syngeneic Schwann cells or mesenchymal stem cells derived from enhanced green fluorescent protein transgenic rats (eGFP-MSCs). Control scaffolds contained extracellular matrix only. The capacity of each scaffold type to influence the architecture of regenerated tissue after 4 weeks was examined by detailed immunohistochemistry and stereology. Astrocytosis was observed in a circumferential peripheral channel compartment. A structurally separate channel core contained scattered astrocytes, eGFP-MSCs, blood vessels, and regenerating axons. Cells double-staining with glial fibrillary acid protein (GFAP) and S-100 antibodies populated each scaffold type, demonstrating migration of an immature cell phenotype into the scaffold from the animal. eGFP-MSCs were distributed in close association with blood vessels. Axon regeneration was augmented by Schwann cell implantation, while eGFP-MSCs did not support axon growth. Methods of unbiased stereology provided physiologic estimates of blood vessel volume, length and surface area, mean vessel diameter, and cross-sectional area in each scaffold type. Schwann cell scaffolds had high numbers of small, densely packed vessels within the channels. eGFP-MSC scaffolds contained fewer, larger vessels. There was a positive linear correlation between axon counts and vessel length density, surface density, and volume fraction. Increased axon number also correlated with decreasing vessel diameter, implicating the importance of blood flow rate. Radial diffusion distances in vessels significantly correlated to axon number as a hyperbolic function, showing a need to engineer high numbers of small vessels in parallel to improving axonal densities. In conclusion, Schwann cells and eGFP-MSCs influenced the regenerating microenvironment with lasting effect on axonal and blood vessel growth. OPF(+) scaffolds in a complete transection model allowed for a detailed comparative, histologic analysis of the cellular architecture in response to each cell type and provided insight into physiologic characteristics that may support axon regeneration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2985-97
Number of pages13
JournalTissue Engineering, Part A
Issue number21-22
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2014


  • Animals
  • Axons/pathology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Equipment Failure Analysis
  • Female
  • Guided Tissue Regeneration/instrumentation
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cell Transplantation/instrumentation
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic/physiology
  • Nerve Regeneration/physiology
  • Polyesters/chemistry
  • Polyethylene Glycols/chemistry
  • Prosthesis Design
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Spinal Cord Injuries/pathology
  • Tissue Scaffolds
  • Treatment Outcome


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