Removal of vascular smooth muscle cells (SMC) from their native environment alters the biochemical and mechanical signals responsible for maintaining normal cell function, causing a shift from a quiescent, contractile phenotype to a more proliferative, synthetic state. We examined the effect on SMC function of culture on two-dimensional (2D) substrates and in three-dimensional (3D) collagen Type I gels, including the effect of exogenous biochemical stimulation on gel compaction, cell proliferation, and expression of the contractile protein smooth muscle alpha-actin (SMA) in these systems. Embedding of SMC in 3D collagen matrices caused a marked decrease in both cell proliferation and expression of SMA. The presence of the extracellular matrix modulated cellular responses to platelet-derived growth factor BB, heparin, transforming growth factor-beta1, and endothelial cell-conditioned medium. Cell proliferation and SMA expression were shown to be inversely related, while gel compaction and SMA expression were not correlated. Taken together, these results show that SMC phenotype and function can be modulated using biochemical stimulation in vitro, but that the effects produced are dependent on the nature of the extracellular matrix. These findings have implications for the study of vascular biology in vitro, as well as for the development of engineered vascular tissues.
Copyright 2003 Elsevier Science (USA)