Characterization of an Acellular Scaffold for a Tissue Engineering Approach to the Nipple-Areolar Complex Reconstruction

Nicholas C. Pashos, Michelle E. Scarritt, Zachary R. Eagle, Jeffrey M. Gimble, Abigail E. Chaffin, Bruce A. Bunnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


A significant number of patients undergo mastectomies and breast reconstructions every year using many surgical-based techniques to reconstruct the nipple-areolar complex (NAC). Described herein is a tissue engineering approach that may permit a human NAC onlay graft during breast reconstruction procedures. By applying decellularization, which is the removal of cellular components from tissue, to an intact whole donor NAC, the extracellular matrix (ECM) structure of the NAC is preserved. This creates a biologically derived scaffold for cells to repopulate and regenerate the NAC. A detergent-based decellularization method was used to derive whole NAC scaffolds from nonhuman primate rhesus macaque NAC tissue. Using both histological and quantitative analyses for the native and decellularized tissues, the derived ECM graft was assessed. The bioactivity of the scaffold was evaluated following cell culture with bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (BMSCs). The data presented here demonstrate that scaffolds are devoid of cells and retain ECM integrity and a high degree of bioactivity. The content of collagen and glycosaminoglycans were not significantly altered by the decellularization process, whereas the elastin content was significantly decreased. The proliferation and apoptosis of seeded BMSCs were found to be approximately 65 and <1.5%, respectively. This study characterizes the successful decellularization of NAC tissue as compared to native NACs based on structural protein composition, lubricating protein retention, the maintenance of adhesion molecules, and bioactivity when reseeded with cells. These histological and quantitative analyses provide the foundation for a novel approach to NAC reconstruction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-193
Number of pages11
JournalCells Tissues Organs
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • Acellular scaffold
  • Matrix
  • Nipple-areolar complex reconstruction
  • Regenerative medicine
  • Tissue engineering


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