Cardiac organogenesis in vitro: reestablishment of three-dimensional tissue architecture by dissociated neonatal rat ventricular cells

Tissue Eng. 1999 Apr;5(2):103-18. doi: 10.1089/ten.1999.5.103.


The mammalian heart does not regenerate in vivo. The heart is, therefore, an excellent candidate for tissue engineering approaches and for the use of biosynthetic devices in the replacement or augmentation of defective tissue. Unfortunately, little is known about the capacity of isolated heart cells to re-establish tissue architectures in vitro. In this study, we examined the possibility that cardiac cells possess a latent organizational potential that is unrealized within the mechanically active tissue but that can be accessed in quiescent environments in culture. In the series of experiments presented here, total cell populations were isolated from neonatal rat ventricles and recombined in rotating bioreactors containing a serum-free medium and surfaces for cell attachment. The extent to which tissue-like structure and contractile function were established was assessed using a combination of morphological, physiological, and biochemical techniques. We found that mixed populations of ventricular cells formed extensive three-dimensional aggregates that were spontaneously and rhythmically contractile and that large aggregates of structurally-organized cells contracted in unison. The cells were differentially distributed in these aggregates and formed architectures that were indistinguishable from those of intact tissue. These architectures arose in the absence of three-dimensional cues from the matrix, and the formation of organotypic structures was apparently driven by the cells themselves. Our observations suggest that cardiac cells possess an innate capacity to re-establish complex, three-dimensional, cardiac organization in vitro. Understanding the basis of this capacity, and harnessing the organizational potential of heart cells, will be critical in the development of tissue homologues for use in basic research and in the engineering of biosynthetic implants for the treatment of cardiac disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Actins / analysis
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Biomedical Engineering / methods
  • Bioreactors
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Culture Media, Serum-Free
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development
  • Fibronectins
  • Heart Ventricles
  • Heart, Artificial*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Myocardium / cytology*
  • Myocardium / ultrastructure
  • Myosin Heavy Chains / analysis
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Actins
  • Culture Media, Serum-Free
  • Fibronectins
  • Myosin Heavy Chains