A Tissue-Engineered Blood Vessel Model for Vascular Aging

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Clinical studies have identified strong correlations between aging and the development of atherosclerosis. In particular, endothelial cell senescence is implicated in age-related changes in vasoreactivity. Oxidative stress is considered the primary source of endothelial cell (EC) senescence in vivo. EC senescence leads to abnormal proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells, reduced vasoreactivity, enhanced vascular permeability, and greater adhesion of circulating monocytes and lipids. Endothelial senescence often occurs coincident with an inflammatory response within the endothelium. Recapitulating this mechanism of inducing EC senescence in vitro will facilitate a more precise understanding of how aging contributes to endothelial dysfunction and development of vascular diseases, particularly atherosclerosis. Additionally, evidence of vascular remodeling, particularly deposition of fibronectin and stiffening of the vessel wall matrix, is found in both older patients and atheroprone regions. The independent effects of these factors on the function of endothelial cells is poorly understood due to the inability to study them in isolation in vivo. The Truskey lab developed tissue-engineered blood vessels (TEBVs) which recapitulate the structure and function of an arteriole in vitro. These vessels can be fabricated rapidly, perfused immediately after fabrication, and reach functional maturity after a week. Measurements of endothelium-mediated vascular function confirm the presence of a healthy endothelium in the vessels for several weeks after initial fabrication. This in vitro system allows more precise control over the cellular and structural components of blood vessels than is possible with in vivo experiments. Ultimately, the development of a more robust in vitro model for atherosclerosis will contribute to an increased understanding of vascular disease progression and provide a platform for the evaluation of new drugs during preclinical trials. Specific Aim 1: Evaluate the functional effects of stress-induced senescence on TEBVs. Stress-induced senescence reduced endothelium-dependent vessel function and resulted in endothelial cell inflammation with minimal effects on the surrounding hNDFs. Stress-induced senescence was induced in vitro by treatment with hydrogen peroxide. 2-D cells and TEBVs were treated for 5 or 7 days with hydrogen peroxide. Cells in 2-D were stained for p21 to evaluate senescence, as well as key immune cell adhesion markers VCAM-1, ICAM-1, and E-Selectin. To characterize the effects on TEBVs, vasoreactivity in response to an endothelium-independent vasodilator (sodium nitroprusside) and vasoconstrictor (phenylephrine) were quantified, as well as endothelium-dependent vasoreactivity (acetylcholine). Immunostaining of p21 and VCAM-1 expression was also used to confirm that senescence and inflammation were induced in the TEBVs alongside the reduction in endothelium-dependent vasodilation. Specific Aim 2: Evaluate the capacity of stress-induced senescence to increase the monocyte adhesion and foam cell formation in the TEBVs Stress-induced senescence in TEBVs increased adhesion of circulating monocytes and foam cell formation in accumulated monocytes and medial hNDFs. Senescence was induced as in Aim 1, by treating vessels with hydrogen peroxide. The resulting increase in senescence, VCAM-1, and E-selectin increased adhesion of circulating monocytes to the vessel wall. To develop an atherogenesis model, low density lipoprotein was enzymatically modified into a more inflammatory state which is often identified within atherosclerotic lesions. Introducing enzyme-modified low-density lipoprotein (eLDL) alongside hydrogen peroxide treatment further increased endothelial cell activation. There was a significant increase in the percentage of ICAM-1 positive cells when eLDL was applied to endothelial cells alongside H2O2. hNDFs absorbed and retained eLDL, even without H2O2 in the growth media. When TEBVs were exposed to a combination of eLDL, H2O2, and cell-tracker red monocytes, endothelium-dependent vasoreactivity was significantly compromised. Lipid retention within the vessel wall was significant, as was adhesion of monocytes. Specific Aim 3: Evaluate the drug-responsiveness of the TEBV senescence model and the ability of geroprotective agents to reduce senescence-induced vascular dysfunction, monocyte adhesion, and foam cell formation. Development of a physiologically relevant model for vascular senescence can provide a valuable tool for evaluating the efficacy of drugs targeting atherosclerosis, particularly a new class of drugs in development called senolytics. Senolytics, and their sister drugs senomorphics, specifically target senescent cells and transiently disable the anti-apoptotic pathways that prolong their lives, reducing the burden of senescent cells within the tissue. Senomorphics target factors within the senescence-associated secretory pathway (SASP) to reduce cytokine production and inflammation. Dasatinib and quercetin, two senolytics, and tacrolimus, a senomorphic, were tested on CBECFCs growing in 2-D to see if they were effective at reducing the percentage of p21 positive (senescent) cells. Tacrolimus was found to be the best candidate and used in TEBV trials. TEBVs treated with tacrolimus for 48 hours after induction of senescence recovered significantly more endothelium-dependent vasoreactivity compared to vessels left to recover from H2O2 in normal growth media. Additionally, addition of tacrolimus for the duration of hydrogen peroxide treatment had an atheroprotective effect. Adhesion of monocytes and foam cell formation were significantly reduced compared to vessels without tacrolimus. In summary, the work presented here demonstrates that a TEBV model of vascular senescence can be generated in under two weeks using near-physiological levels of hydrogen peroxide. This model can be capitalized upon to model atherogenesis by adding only eLDL and monocytes. We were also able to effectively use the senomorphic tacrolimus to mitigate the effects of senescence on monocyte adhesion and lipid uptake. This system could be used to investigate other senolytics or test the efficacy and toxicity of novel drugs still in development.





Salmon, Ellen Elizabeth (2021). A Tissue-Engineered Blood Vessel Model for Vascular Aging. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22960.


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