Since most of the body’s extracellular matrix (ECM) is composed of collagen and elastin, we believe the choice of these materials is key for the future and promise of tissue engineering. Once it is known how elastin content of ECM guides cellular behavior (in 2D or 3D), one will be able to harness the power of collagen-elastin microenvironments to design and engineer stimuli-responsive tissues. Moreover, the implementation of such matrices to promote endothelial-mesenchymal transition of primary endothelial cells constitutes a powerful tool to engineer 3D tissues. Here, we design a 3D collagen-elastin scaffold to mimic the native ECM of heart valves, by providing the strength of collagen layers, as well as elasticity. Valve interstitial cells (VICs) were encapsulated in the collagen-elastin hydrogels and valve endothelial cells (VECs) cultured onto the surface to create an in vitro 3D VEC-VIC co-culture. Over a seven-day period, VICs had stable expression levels of integrin β1 and F-actin and continuously proliferated, while cell morphology changed to more elongated. VECs maintained endothelial phenotype up to day five, as indicated by low expression of F-actin and integrin β1, while transformed VECs accounted for less than 7% of the total VECs in culture. On day seven, over 20% VECs were transformed to mesenchymal phenotype, indicated by increased actin filaments and higher expression of integrin β1. These findings demonstrate that our 3D collagen-elastin scaffolds provided a novel tool to study cell-cell or cell-matrix interactions in vitro, promoting advances in the current knowledge of valvular endothelial cell mesenchymal transition.
- Collagen-elastin construct
- Gel scaffolds
- Heart valve regeneration
- Valvular interstitial cell phenotypes