Many planar connective tissues exhibit complex anisotropic matrix fiber arrangements that are critical to their biomechanical function. This organized structure is created and modified by resident fibroblasts in response to mechanical forces in their environment. The directionality of applied strain fields changes dramatically during development, aging, and disease, but the specific effect of strain direction on matrix remodeling is less clear. Current mechanobiological inquiry of planar tissues is limited to equibiaxial or uniaxial stretch, which inadequately simulates many in vivo environments. In this study, we implement a novel bioreactor system to demonstrate the unique effect of controlled anisotropic strain on fibroblast behavior in three-dimensional (3-D) engineered tissue environments, using aortic valve interstitial fibroblast cells as a model system. Cell seeded 3-D collagen hydrogels were subjected to cyclic anisotropic strain profiles maintained at constant areal strain magnitude for up to 96 h at 1 Hz. Increasing anisotropy of biaxial strain resulted in increased cellular orientation and collagen fiber alignment along the principal directions of strain and cell orientation was found to precede fiber reorganization. Cellular proliferation and apoptosis were both significantly enhanced under increasing biaxial strain anisotropy (P<0.05). While cyclic strain reduced both vimentin and alpha-smooth muscle actin compared to unstrained controls, vimentin and alpha-smooth muscle actin expression increased with strain anisotropy and correlated with direction (P<0.05). Collectively, these results suggest that strain field anisotropy is an independent regulator of fibroblast cell phenotype, turnover, and matrix reorganization, which may inform normal and pathological remodeling in soft tissues.
Copyright © 2012 Acta Materialia Inc. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.