Vascular endothelial growth factor secretion by nonmyocytes modulates Connexin-43 levels in cardiac organoids

Tissue Eng Part A. 2012 Sep;18(17-18):1771-83. doi: 10.1089/ten.TEA.2011.0468. Epub 2012 Aug 6.


We previously showed that the sequential, but not simultaneous, culture of endothelial cells (ECs), fibroblasts (FBs), and cardiomyocytes (CMs) resulted in elongated, beating cardiac organoids. We hypothesized that the expression of Cx43 and contractile function are mediated by vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) released by nonmyocytes during the preculture period. Cardiac organoids (~200 μm diameter) were cultivated in microchannels to enable rapid screening. Three experimental groups were formed: (i) Simultaneous Preculture (ECs+FBs for 48 h, followed by CMs), (ii) Sequential Preculture (ECs for 24 h, FBs for 24 h, followed by CMs), and (iii) Simultaneous Triculture (ECs+FBs+CMs). Controls included CMs only, FBs only, and ECs only groups, and preculture with ECs only or FBs only. The highest VEGF levels were found in the Preculture groups [Simultaneous Preculture, 8.9±2.7 ng/(mL·h(-1)); Sequential Preculture, 16.6±3.4 ng/(mL·h(-1))], as compared with Simultaneous Triculture where VEGF was not detectable, as shown by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Analytical flow cytometry showed that VEGFR2 was expressed by ECs (86%±2 VEGFR2+), FBs (44%±1 VEGFR2+), and CMs (49%±2 VEGFR2+), showing that all three cell types were capable of responding to changes in VEGF. Addition of anti-VEGF neutralizing IgG (0.4 μg/mL) to Simultaneous Preculture resulted in 3-fold decrease in Cx43 mRNA and 1.5-fold decrease in Cx43 protein, while Simultaneous Triculture supplemented with VEGF ligand (30 ng/mL) had a threefold increase in Cx43 mRNA and a twofold increase in Cx43 protein. Addition of a small molecule inhibitor of the VEGFR2 receptor (19.4 nM) to Sequential Preculture caused a 1.4-fold decrease in Cx43 mRNA and a 4.1-fold decrease in Cx43 protein. Cx43 was localized within CMs, and not within FBs or ECs. Enriched CM organoids and Sequential Preculture organoids grown in the presence of VEGFR2 inhibitor displayed low levels of Cx43 and poor functional properties. Taken together, these results suggest that endogenous VEGF-VEGFR2 signaling enhanced Cx43 expression and cardiac function in engineered cardiac organoids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / pharmacology
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Connexin 43 / genetics
  • Connexin 43 / metabolism*
  • Down-Regulation / drug effects
  • Down-Regulation / genetics
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena / drug effects
  • Endothelial Cells / cytology
  • Endothelial Cells / drug effects
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / cytology
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Ligands
  • Myocardial Contraction / drug effects
  • Myocardium / metabolism*
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / cytology
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / drug effects
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / metabolism*
  • Organoids / drug effects
  • Organoids / metabolism*
  • Protein Transport / drug effects
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects
  • Up-Regulation / genetics
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism*
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / pharmacology
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor-2 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor-2 / metabolism


  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Connexin 43
  • Ligands
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor-2