A Tissue-Engineered Microvascular System to Evaluate Vascular Progenitor Cells for Angiogenic Therapies
The ability of tissue engineered constructs to replace diseased or damaged organs is limited without the incorporation of a functional vascular system. To design microvasculature that recapitulates the vascular niche functions for each tissue in the body, we investigated the following hypotheses: (1) cocultures of human umbilical cord blood-derived endothelial progenitor cells (hCB-EPCs) with mural cells can produce the microenvironmental cues necessary to support physiological microvessel formation in vitro; (2) poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) hydrogel systems can support 3D microvessel formation by hCB-EPCs in coculture with mural cells; (3) mesenchymal cells, derived from either umbilical cord blood (MPCs) or bone marrow (MSCs), can serve as mural cells upon coculture with hCB-EPCs. Coculture ratios between 0.2 (16,000 cells/cm2) and 0.6 (48,000 cells/cm2) of hCB-EPCs plated upon 3.3 µg/ml of fibronectin-coated tissue culture plastic with (80,000 cells/cm2) of human aortic smooth muscle cells (SMCs), results in robust microvessel structures observable for several weeks in vitro. Endothelial basal media (EBM-2, Lonza) with 9% v/v fetal bovine serum (FBS) could support viability of both hCB-EPCs and SMCs. Coculture spatial arrangement of hCB-EPCs and SMCs significantly affected network formation with mixed systems showing greater connectivity and increased solution levels of angiogenic cytokines than lamellar systems. We extended this model into a 3D system by encapsulation of a 1 to 1 ratio of hCB-EPC and SMCs (30,000 cells/µl) within hydrogels of PEG-conjugated RGDS adhesive peptide (3.5 mM) and PEG-conjugated protease sensitive peptide (6 mM). Robust hCB-EPC microvessels formed within the gel with invasion up to 150 µm depths and parameters of total tubule length (12 mm/mm2), branch points (127/mm2), and average tubule thickness (27 µm). 3D hCB-EPC microvessels showed quiescence of hCB-EPCs (<1% proliferating cells), lumen formation, expression of EC proteins connexin 32 and VE-cadherin, eNOS, basement membrane formation by collagen IV and laminin, and perivascular investment of PDGFR-β+/α-SMA+ cells. MPCs present in <15% of isolations displayed >98% expression for mural markers PDGFR-β, α-SMA, NG2 and supported hCB-EPC by day 14 of coculture with total tubule lengths near 12 mm/mm2. hCB-EPCs cocultured with MSCs underwent cell loss by day 10 with a 4-fold reduction in CD31/PECAM+ cells, in comparison to controls of hCB-EPCs in SMC coculture. Changing the coculture media to endothelial growth media (EBM-2 + 2% v/v FBS + EGM-2 supplement containing VEGF, FGF-2, EGF, hydrocortisone, IGF-1, ascorbic acid, and heparin), promoted stable hCB-EPC network formation in MSC cocultures over 2 weeks in vitro, with total segment length per image area of 9 mm/mm2. Taken together, these findings demonstrate a tissue engineered system that can be utilized to evaluate vascular progenitor cells for angiogenic therapies.
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