Recent advances in tissue engineering have led to potential new strategies, especially decellularization protocols from natural tissues, for the repair, replacement, and regeneration of intervertebral discs. This study aimed to validate our previously reported method for the decellularization of annulus fibrosus (AF) tissue and to quantify potentially antigenic α-Gal epitopes in the decellularized tissue. Porcine AF tissue was decellularized using different freeze–thaw temperatures, chemical detergents, and incubation times in order to determine the optimal method for cell removal. The integrity of the decellularized material was determined using biochemical and mechanical tests. The α-Gal epitope was quantified before and after decellularization. Decellularization with freeze–thaw in liquid nitrogen, an ionic detergent (0.1% SDS), and a 24 h incubation period yielded the greatest retention of GAG and collagen relative to DNA reduction when tested as single variables. Combined, these optimal decellularization conditions preserved more GAG while removing the same amount of DNA as the conditions used in our previous study. Components and biomechanical properties of the AF matrix were retained. The decellularized AF scaffold exhibited suitable immune-compatibility, as evidenced by successful in vivo remodeling and a decrease in the α-Gal epitope. Our study defined the optimal conditions for decellularization of porcine AF tissues while preserving the biological composition and mechanical properties of the scaffold. Under these conditions, immunocompatibility was evidenced by successful in vivo remodeling and reduction of the α-Gal epitope in the decellularized material. Decellularized AF scaffolds are potential candidates for clinical applications in spinal surgery.
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