Approximately one million individuals with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders experience advanced symptoms, such as disc perforations, necessitating the removal of the articular disc (AD). The TMJ AD is defined as fibrocartilage residing between the skull and jaw bones. Clinically, oral maxillofacial surgeons utilize tissue autografts such as auricular elastic cartilage or fat pads to replace the AD. These can alleviate patient pain for a period of time; however, the replacement often needs to be removed due to calcification of the tissue which can cause joint ankylosis.
Advances in tissue engineering (TE) have stimulated efforts to develop an AD graft in vitro. Importantly, recapitulating the native extracellular matrix is essential to support the compressive and tensile loading of the joint. For this to occur, the tissue must be fully characterized to know the targets for TE. Thus, the goals of my work were to study the developmental origin of the tissue defined as the AD, and to identify and use an appropriate cell source for TE of the AD. My results indicate a tenogenic origin of the AD that is not the current classification of the AD tissue. Furthermore, I was able to characterize and engineer tissue with a cloneable population of progenitor cells isolated from the AD itself. These results could have major impacts on the tissue engineering and clinical approaches to TMJ tissue regeneration.