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Electrospun microfibers are attractive for the engineering of oriented tissues because they present instructive topographic and mechanical cues to cells. However, high-density microfiber networks are too cell-impermeable for most tissue applications. Alternatively, the distribution of sparse microfibers within a three-dimensional hydrogel could present instructive cues to guide cell organization while not inhibiting cell behavior. In this study, thin (∼5 fibers thick) layers of aligned microfibers (0.7 μm) were embedded within collagen hydrogels containing mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), cultured for up to 14 days, and assayed for expression of ligament markers and imaged for cell organization. These microfibers were generated through the electrospinning of polycaprolactone (PCL), poly(ester-urethane) (PEUR), or a 75/25 PEUR/PCL blend to produce microfiber networks with elastic moduli of 31, 15, and 5.6 MPa, respectively. MSCs in composites containing 5.6 MPa fibers exhibited increased expression of the ligament marker scleraxis and the contractile phenotype marker α-smooth muscle actin versus the stiffer fiber composites. Additionally, cells within the 5.6 MPa microfiber composites were more oriented compared to cells within the 15 and 31 MPa microfiber composites. Together, these data indicate that the mechanical properties of microfiber/collagen composites can be tuned for the engineering of ligament and other target tissues. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biomed Mater Res Part A: 104A: 1894-1901, 2016.
© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.