Engineered heart tissue enables study of residual undifferentiated embryonic stem cell activity in a cardiac environment

Biotechnol Bioeng. 2011 Mar;108(3):704-19. doi: 10.1002/bit.22987. Epub 2010 Nov 30.


Embryonic stem cell (ESC) derivatives are a promising cell source for cardiac cell therapy. Mechanistic studies upon cell injection in conventional animal models are limited by inefficient delivery and poor cell survival. As an alternative, we have used an engineered heart tissue (EHT) based on neonatal rat cardiomyocytes (CMs) cultivated with electrical field stimulation as an in vitro model to study cell injection. We injected (0.001, 0.01, and 0.1 million) and tracked (by qPCR and histology) undifferentiated yellow-fluorescent protein transgenic mouse ESCs and Flk1 + /PDGFRα+ cardiac progenitor (CPs) cells, to investigate the effect of the cardiac environment on cell differentiation, as well as to test whether our in vitro model system could recapitulate the formation of teratoma-like structures commonly observed upon in vivo ESC injection. By 8 days post-injection, ESCs were spatially segregated from the cardiac cell population; however, ESC injection increased survival of CMs. The presence of ESCs blocked electrical conduction through the tissue, resulting in a 46% increase in the excitation threshold. Expression of mouse cardiac troponin I, was markedly increased in CP injected constructs compared to ESC injected constructs at all time points and cell doses tested. As early as 2 weeks, epithelial and ganglion-like structures were observed in ESC injected constructs. By 4 weeks of ESC injection, teratoma-like structures containing neural, epithelial, and connective tissue were observed in the constructs. Non-cardiac structures were observed in the CP injected constructs only after extended culture (4 weeks) and only at high cell doses, suggesting that these cells require further enrichment or differentiation prior to transplantation. Our data indicate that the cardiac environment of host tissue and electrical field stimulation did not preferentially guide the differentiation of ESCs towards the cardiac lineage. In the same environment, injection of CP resulted in a more robust cardiac differentiation than injection of ESC. Our data demonstrate that the model-system developed herein can be used to study the functional effects of candidate stem cells on the host myocardium, as well as to measure the residual activity of undifferentiated cells present in the mixture.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Myocardium / cytology*
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Tissue Engineering / methods*