Adipose-derived stromal/stem cells (ASCs) are a promising cell source for vascular-based approaches to clinical therapeutics, as they have been shown to give rise to both endothelial and perivascular cells. While it is well known that ASCs can present a heterogeneous phenotypic profile, spontaneous interactions among these subpopulations that result in the formation of complex tissue structures have not been rigorously demonstrated. Our study reports the novel finding that ASCs grown in monolayers in the presence of angiogenic cues are capable of self-assembling into complex, three-dimensional vascular structures. This phenomenon is only apparent when the ASCs are seeded at a high density (20,000 cells/cm2) and occur through orchestrated interactions among three distinct subpopulations: CD31-positive cells (CD31+), α-smooth muscle actin-positive cells (αSMA+), and cells that are unstained for both these markers (CD31-/αSMA-). Investigations into the kinetics of the process revealed that endothelial vessel-like structures initially arose from individual CD31+ cells through proliferation and their interactions with CD31-/αSMA- cells. During this period, αSMA+ cells proliferated and appeared to migrate toward the vessel structures, eventually engaging in cell-cell contact with them after 1 week. By 2 weeks, the lumen-containing CD31+ vessels grew greater than a millimeter in length, were lined with vascular basement membrane proteins, and were encased within a dense, three-dimensional cluster of αSMA+ and CD31-/αSMA- cells. The recruitment of αSMA+ cells was largely due to platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) signaling, as the inhibition of PDGF receptors substantially reduced αSMA+ cell growth and vessel coverage. Additionally, we found that while hypoxia increased endothelial gene expression and vessel width, it also inhibited the growth of the αSMA+ population. Together, these findings underscore the potential use of ASCs in forming mature vessels in vitro as well as the need for a further understanding of the heterotypic interactions among ASC subpopulations.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biomedical Engineering