Polyetheretherketone (PEEK) titanium composite (PTC) is a novel interbody fusion device that combines a PEEK core with titanium alloy (Ti6Al4V) endplates. The present study aimed to investigate the in vitro biological reactivity of human bone-marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (hBM-MSCs) to micro- and nanotopographies produced by an acid-etching process on the surface of 3D-printed PTC endplates. Optical profilometer and scanning electron microscopy were used to assess the surface roughness and identify the nano-features of etched or unetched PTC endplates, respectively. The viability, morphology and the expression of specific osteogenic markers were examined after 7 days of culture in the seeded cells. Haralick texture analysis was carried out on the unseeded endplates to correlate surface texture features to the biological data. The acid-etching process modified the surface roughness of the 3D-printed PTC endplates, creating micro- and nano-scale structures that significantly contributed to sustaining the viability of hBM-MSCs and triggering the expression of early osteogenic markers, such as alkaline phosphatase activity and bone-ECM protein production. Finally, the topography of 3D-printed PTC endplates influenced Haralick’s features, which in turn correlated with the expression of two osteogenic markers, osteopontin and osteocalcin. Overall, these data demonstrate that the acid-etching process of PTC endplates created a favourable environment for osteogenic differentiation of hBM-MSCs and may potentially have clinical benefit.
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