The hemodynamic functionality of heart valves strongly depends on the distribution of collagen fibers, which are their main load-bearing constituents. It is known that collagen networks remodel in response to mechanical stimuli. Yet, the complex interplay between external load and collagen remodeling is poorly understood. In this study, we adopted a computational approach to simulate collagen remodeling occurring in native fetal and pediatric heart valves. The computational model accounted for several biological phenomena: cellular (re)orientation in response to both mechanical stimuli and topographical cues provided by collagen fibers; collagen deposition and traction forces along the main cellular direction; collagen degradation decreasing with stretch; and cell-mediated collagen prestretch. Importantly, the computational results were well in agreement with previous experimental data for all simulated heart valves. Simulations performed by varying some of the computational parameters suggest that cellular forces and (re)orientation in response to mechanical stimuli may be fundamental mechanisms for the emergence of the circumferential collagen alignment usually observed in native heart valves. On the other hand, the tendency of cells to coalign with collagen fibers is essential to maintain and reinforce that circumferential alignment during development.
Statement of Significance
The hemodynamic functionality of heart valves is strongly influenced by the alignment of load-bearing collagen fibers. Currently, the mechanisms that are responsible for the development of the circumferential collagen alignment in native heart valves are not fully understood. In the present study, cell-mediated remodeling of native human heart valves during early development was computationally simulated to understand the impact of individual mechanisms on collagen alignment. Our simulations successfully predicted the degree of collagen alignment observed in native fetal and pediatric semilunar valves. The computational results suggest that the circumferential collagen alignment arises from cell traction and cellular (re)orientation in response to mechanical stimuli, and with increasing age is reinforced by the tendency of cells to co-align with pre-existing collagen fibers.
Full Access Link: Acta Biomaterialia