Biologically relevant, three-dimensional extracellular matrix is an essential component of in vitro vasculogenesis models. WI-38 fibroblasts assemble a 3D matrix that induces endothelial tubulogenesis, but this model is challenged by fibroblast senescence and the inability to distinguish endothelial cell-derived matrix from matrix made by WI-38 fibroblasts. Matrices produced by hTERT-immortalized WI-38 recapitulated those produced by wild type fibroblasts. ECM fibrils were heavily populated by tenascin-C, fibronectin, and type VI collagen. Nearly half of the total type I collagen, but only a small fraction of the type IV collagen, were incorporated into ECM. Stable hTERT-WI-38 transfectants expressing TagRFP-fibronectin incorporated TagRFP into ~90% of the fibronectin in 3D matrices. TagRFP-fibronectin colocalized with tenascin-C and with type I collagen in a pattern that was similar to that seen in matrices from wild type WI-38. Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells (HUVEC) formed 3D adhesions and tubes on WI38-hTERT-TagRFP-FN-derived matrices, and the TagRFP-fibronectin component of this new 3D human fibroblast matrix model facilitated the demonstration of concentrated membrane type 1 metalloprotease and new HUVEC FN and collagen type IV fibrils during EC tubulogenesis. These findings indicate that WI-38-hTERT- and WI-38-hTERT-TagRFP-FN-derived matrices provide platforms for the definition of new matrix assembly and remodeling events during vasculogenesis.
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