Vascularization is critical for cell survival within tissue-engineered grafts. Adipose-derived stromal/stem cells (ASCs) are widely used in tissue engineering applications as they are a clinically relevant source of stem cells and endothelial progenitor cells. ASCs have previously been shown to self-assemble into pericyte-stabilized vascular networks in normoxic (20% O2) cultures. This capacity for de novo vascular assembly may accelerate graft vascularization in vivo rather than relying solely on angiogenic ingrowth. However, oxygen depletion within large cell-seeded grafts will be rapid, and it is unclear how this worsening hypoxic environment will impact the vascular assembly of the transplanted cells. The objectives of this study were to determine whether ASC-derived vessels could grow in hypoxia and to assess whether the vessel maturity (i.e., individual cells vs. preformed vessels) influenced this hypoxic response. Utilizing an in vitro vascularization model, ASCs were encapsulated within fibrin gels and cultured in vitro for up to 6 days in either normoxia (20% O2) or hypoxia (0.2% or 2% O2). In a subsequent experiment, vessels were allowed to preform in normoxia for 6 days before an additional 6 days of either normoxia or hypoxia. Viability, vessel growth, pericyte coverage, proliferation, metabolism, and angiogenic factor expression were assessed for each experimental approach. Vessel growth was dramatically inhibited in both moderate and severe hypoxia (47% and 11% total vessel length vs. normoxia, respectively), despite maintaining high cell viability and upregulating endogenous expression of vascular endothelial growth factor in hypoxia. Bromodeoxyuridine labeling indicated significantly reduced proliferation of endothelial cells in hypoxia. In contrast, when vascular networks were allowed to preform for 6 days in normoxia, vessels not only survived but also continued to grow more in hypoxia than those maintained in normoxia. These findings demonstrate that vascular assembly and growth are tightly regulated by oxygen tension and may be differentially affected by hypoxic conditions based on the maturity of the vessels. Understanding this relationship is critical to developing effective approaches to engineer viable tissue-engineered grafts in vivo.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biomedical Engineering