Equibiaxial strain stimulates fibroblastic phenotype shift in smooth muscle cells in an engineered tissue model of the aortic wall

Biomaterials. 2006 Oct;27(30):5252-8. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2006.05.040. Epub 2006 Jun 27.


Many cells in the body reside in a complex three-dimensional (3D) environment stimulated by mechanical force. In vitro bioreactor systems have greatly improved our understanding of the mechanisms behind cell mechanotransduction. Current systems to impose strain in vitro are limited either by the lack of uniform strain profile or inability to strain 3D engineered tissues. In this study, we present a system capable of generating cyclic equibiaxial strain to an engineered vascular wall model. Type I collagen hydrogels populated with rat aortic smooth muscle cells (RASMCs) were created either as a compacting disk or constrained hemisphere. Both models were adhered to silicone membranes precoated with collagen I, fibronectin, or Cell-Tak and assayed for adhesion characteristics. The best performing model was then exposed to 48 h of 10% strain at 1Hz to simulate wall strain profiles found in vascular aneurysms, with static cultures serving as controls. The finite strain profile at the level of the membrane and the free surface of the construct was quantified using microbeads. The results indicate that the hemisphere model adhered with Cell-Tak had the most stable adhesion, followed by fibronectin and collagen I. Disk models did not adhere well under any coating condition. Uniform strain propagation was possible up to a maximum area strain of 20% with this system. RASMC responded to 10% equibiaxial strain by becoming less elongated, and immunohistochemistry suggested that stretched RASMC shifted to a more synthetic phenotype in comparison to static controls. These results suggest that equibiaxial strain may induce smooth muscle cell differentiation. We conclude that this system is effective in stimulating cells with cyclic equibiaxial strain in 3D cultures, and can be applied to a variety of biomaterial and tissue engineering applications.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aorta / cytology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Collagen Type I / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / cytology*
  • Hydrogels / metabolism
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / cytology*
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / cytology*
  • Phenotype
  • Rats
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Tissue Adhesions
  • Tissue Culture Techniques
  • Tissue Engineering / methods*


  • Collagen Type I
  • Hydrogels