Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Robert L. Mauck


Endogenous repair of fibrous connective tissues is limited, and there exist few successful strategies to improve healing after injury. As such, new methods that advance repair by enhancing cell migration to the wound interface, extracellular matrix (ECM) production, and tissue integration would represent a marked clinical advance. Using the adult meniscus as a test platform, we hypothesized that ECM density and stiffness increase throughout tissue maturation, and that these age-related changes present biophysical barriers to interstitial cell migration during wound healing. We further posited that modulating the matrix could remove these impediments, enabling endogenous cells to reach the injury site. To test our hypotheses, we compared the microenvironment of fetal and adult meniscal ECM via atomic force microscopy (AFM) indentation and second harmonic generation (SHG) imaging of the collagenous matrix. We also explored interstitial cell mobility through fetal and adult native tissue environments using a three-dimensional ex vivo system. We further investigated strategies that might expedite cell migration, including enzymatic degradation of the ECM with collagenase to reduce matrix stiffness and increase porosity. To restrict these biological manipulations to the wound interface, we fabricated a delivery system in which selected biofactors were stored inside composite electrospun nanofibrous scaffolds and released upon hydration. The ability for bioactive scaffolds to enhance the cellularity and integration of meniscal injuries was evaluated in vivo using tissue explants in a subcutaneous implantation model, as well as an orthotopic meniscal injury model. Our findings suggest that matrix stiffness, density, and organization increase with meniscal development at the expense of cell mobility. Our results also indicate that partial digestion of the wound interface with collagenase improves repair by creating a more compliant and porous microenvironment that facilitates cell migration. Furthermore, when scaffolds containing collagenase-releasing fibers were placed inside meniscal defects, enzymatic digestion was localized and resulted in improved cellular colonization and closure of the wound site, similar to treatment with aqueous collagenase. This innovative approach of targeted delivery may aid the many patients that exhibit meniscal tears by promoting integrative repair, thereby circumventing the pathologic consequences of partial meniscus removal, and may find widespread application in the treatment of injuries to a variety of dense connective tissues.

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