Tissue engineered heart valves (TEHVs) may provide a permanent solution to congenital heart valve disease by permitting somatic valve growth in the pediatric patient. However, to date, TEHV studies have focused primarily on collagen, the dominant component of valve extracellular matrix (ECM). Temporal decreases in other ECM components, such as the glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), generally decrease as cells produce more collagen under mechanically loaded states; nevertheless, GAGs represent a key component of the valve ECM, providing structural stability and hydration to the leaflets. In an effort to retain GAGs within the engineered constructs, here we investigated the utility of the protein fibrin in combination with a valve-like, cyclic flexure and steady flow (flex-flow) mechanical conditioning culture process using adult human periodontal ligament cells (PLCs). We found both fibrin and flex-flow mechanical components to be independently significant (p<0.05), and hence important in influencing the DNA, GAG and collagen contents of the engineered tissues. In addition, the interaction of fibrin with flex-flow was found to be significant in the case of collagen; specifically, the combination of these environments promoted PLC collagen production resulting in a significant difference compared to dynamic and statically cultured specimens without fibrin. Histological examination revealed that the GAGs were retained by fibrin entrapment and adhesion, which were subsequently confirmed by additional experiments on native valve tissues. We conclude that fibrin in the flex-flow culture of engineered heart valve tissues: (i) augments PLC-derived collagen production; and (ii) enhances retention of GAGs within the developing ECM.
Keywords: Engineered heart valves; Fibrin; Flex flow; GAG retention; Glycosaminoglycans.
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