Layer-specific cell differentiation in bi-layered vascular grafts under flow perfusion
Bioengineered grafts have the potential to overcome the limitations of autologous and non-resorbable synthetic vessels as vascular substitutes. However, one of the challenges in creating these living grafts is to induce and maintain multiple cell phenotypes with a biomimetic organization. Our biomimetic grafts with heterotypic design hold promises for functional neovessel regeneration by guiding the layered cellular and tissue organization into a native-like structure. In this study, a perfusable two-compartment bioreactor chamber was designed for the further maturation of these vascular grafts, with a compartmentalized exposure of the graft’s luminal and outer layer to cell-specific media. We used the system for a co-culture of endothelial colony forming cells and multipotent mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) in the vascular grafts, produced by combining electrospinning and melt electrowriting. It was demonstrated that the targeted cell phenotypes (i.e. endothelial cells (ECs) and vascular smooth muscle cells (vSMCs), respectively) could be induced and maintained during flow perfusion. The confluent luminal layer of ECs showed flow responsiveness, as indicated by the upregulation of COX-2, KLF2, and eNOS, as well as through stress fiber remodeling and cell elongation. In the outer layer, the circumferentially oriented, multi-layered structure of MSCs could be successfully differentiated into vSM-like cells using TGFβ, as indicated by the upregulation of αSMA, calponin, collagen IV, and (tropo)elastin, without affecting the endothelial monolayer. The cellular layers inhibited diffusion between the outer and the inner medium reservoirs. This implies tightly sealed cellular layers in the constructs, resulting in truly separated bioreactor compartments, ensuring the exposure of the inner endothelium and the outer smooth muscle-like layer to cell-specific media. In conclusion, using this system, we successfully induced layer-specific cell differentiation with a native-like cell organization. This co-culture system enables the creation of biomimetic neovessels, and as such can be exploited to investigate and improve bioengineered vascular grafts.
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