Theranostics 2020; 10(6):2872-2887. doi:10.7150/thno.41622

Research Paper

Cartilage repair mediated by thermosensitive photocrosslinkable TGFβ1-loaded GM-HPCH via immunomodulating macrophages, recruiting MSCs and promoting chondrogenesis

Xiongfa Ji1,3*, Zehua Lei1*, Meng Yuan2, Hao Zhu1, Xi Yuan1, Wenbin Liu1, Hongxu Pu1, Jiawei Jiang1, Yu Zhang3✉, Xulin Jiang2✉, Jun Xiao1✉

1. Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Tongji Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, 430030, China
2. Key Laboratory of Biomedical Polymers of Ministry of Education & Department of Chemistry, Wuhan University, Wuhan, 430072, China.
3. Department of Orthopedics, Guangdong General Hospital, Guangdong Academy of Medical Sciences, Guangzhou, Guangdong 510080, PR China
*These authors contributed equally to this work.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Ji X, Lei Z, Yuan M, Zhu H, Yuan X, Liu W, Pu H, Jiang J, Zhang Y, Jiang X, Xiao J. Cartilage repair mediated by thermosensitive photocrosslinkable TGFβ1-loaded GM-HPCH via immunomodulating macrophages, recruiting MSCs and promoting chondrogenesis. Theranostics 2020; 10(6):2872-2887. doi:10.7150/thno.41622. Available from

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Repairing cartilage defects using thermosensitive hydrogels is an attractive treatment strategy, but the poor mechanical properties and limited understanding of the interactions between hydrogels and cells limit their application.

Methods: In this study, a thermosensitive hydroxypropyl chitin hydrogel (HPCH) was functionalized with methacrylate groups to synthesize photocrosslinkable glycidyl methacrylate-modified HPCH (GM-HPCH). GM-HPCH could form a gel in situ through a thermosensitive sol-gel transition and its mechanical properties can be improved by UV irradiation. Cell viability, cell adhesion and anti-apoptosis activity of GM-HPCH were evaluated. Transforming growth factor-β1 (TGFβ1) was introduced into the GM-HPCH hydrogel to fabricate the composite hydrogel. The macrophage immunomodulation, MSC recruitment and chondrogenesis of the composite hydrogel were evaluated.

Results: With high biocompatibility, GM-HPCH could protect chondrocytes from apoptosis. Both the in vitro and in vivo experiments showed that GM-HPCH + TGFβ1 shifted the recruited macrophages from M1 to M2 and promoted chondrogenic gene expression. Additionally, the composite hydrogel could promote the migration of marrow stromal cells (MSCs) in the Transwell test and increase migrated gene expression. The fluorescent tracking of MSCs confirmed MSC homing in the rat chondral defect with the help of GM-HPCH. The macroscopic evaluation and histological results at 6 weeks and 12 weeks postsurgery showed that GM-HPCH + TGFβ1 can achieve superior cartilage healing.

Conclusions: The GM-HPCH + TGFβ1 hydrogel effectively promoted cartilage repair via immunomodulating macrophages, recruiting MSCs and promoting chondrogenesis; thus it is a promising injectable hydrogel for cartilage regeneration.

Keywords: thermosensitive photocrosslinkable hydrogel, mechanical improvement, TGFβ1, immunomodulation, cell recruitment, cartilage tissue engineering