Published: 1 August 2021
The tenocyte niche contains biochemical and biophysical signals that are needed for tendon homeostasis. The tenocyte phenotype is correlated with cell shape in vivo and in vitro, and shape-modifying cues are needed for tenocyte phenotypical maintenance. Indeed, cell shape changes from elongated to spread when cultured on a flat surface, and rat tenocytes lose the expression of phenotypical markers throughout five passages. We hypothesized that tendon gene expression can be preserved by culturing cells in the native tendon shape. To this end, we reproduced the tendon topographical landscape into tissue culture polystyrene, using imprinting technology. We confirmed that the imprints forced the cells into a more elongated shape, which correlated with the level of Scleraxis expression. When we cultured the tenocytes for 7 days on flat surfaces and tendon imprints, we observed a decline in tenogenic marker expression on flat but not on imprints. This research demonstrates that native tendon topography is an important factor contributing to the tenocyte phenotype. Tendon imprints therefore provide a powerful platform to explore the effect of instructive cues originating from native tendon topography on guiding cell shape, phenotype, and function of tendon-related cells.
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