Every year, 400,000 coronary artery bypasses (CABG) are performed in the United States. However, one third of all patients who need a CABG cannot undergo the procedure because of the lack of suitable autologous blood vessels. Both synthetic and tissue engineered vascular grafts have been used clinically for vascular grafts or other surgical applications, but no small- diameter engineered vessels have yet been successfully used for CABG. The success of vascular tissue engineering is strongly dependent on being able to control tissue contractility and extracellular matrix (ECM) production to achieve balance between tissue strength and physiological function. Smooth muscle cells (SMCs), the main contributor of contractility in blood vessels, retain phenotypic plasticity, meaning they possess the ability to switch between a contractile and synthetic phenotype. In 2D culture, a number of biochemical and mechanical cues have been shown to promote the switch to a contractile phenotype in SMCs. However, achieving a stable contractile phenotype in 3D tissue has proven difficult. The work in this dissertation describes an investigation of how passive and dynamic environmental cues influence the smooth muscle phenotype. We studied the effects of substrate modulus in conjunction with changes in cell culture media composition on SMC phenotype in 2D and 3D cultures. Culturing SMCs in a low-serum culture medium resulted in an increase in SMC contractility in 2D cell culture but not in 3D cell-derived tissue. We found that, in SMCs cultured on soft substrates, the ability to modulate SMC phenotype in response to changes in media was diminished. Passively crosslinking the ECM of our cell-derived tissues with genipin resulted in modest increases in elastic modulus, though not enough to observe changes in SMC phenotype. Additionally, we investigated how dynamic cyclic mechanical stretch, in conjunction with cell culture medium, modified SMC contractility in cell and tissue cultures. SMCs increased contractile protein expression when exposed to dynamic stretch in 2D culture, even on soft substrates, which have previously been shown to inhibit phenotypic modulation. In 3D tissue rings, after mechanical stimulation, SMCs became more aligned, the tissue became tougher, and SMCs exhibited a measurable increase in contractile protein expression. In summary, we found that increasing substrate modulus, culturing in low serum cell culture medium, and imparting cyclic mechanical stretch can promote SMC differentiation and cellular alignment, and improve tissue mechanical properties. This information can be used to more accurately recapitulate vascular tissue for use in modeling or in the creation of tissue engineered blood vessels.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
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Reidinger, A. Z. (2015). Changes in Passive and Dynamic Mechanical Environments Promote Differentiation to a Contractile Phenotype in Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.wpi.edu/etd-dissertations/230
3D culture, phenotype, smooth muscle cell, vascular tissue engineering, cell-derived matrix