Valvular interstitial cells (VICs) respond to 3D matrix interactions in a complex manner, but understanding these effects on VIC function better is important for applications ranging from valve tissue engineering to studying valve disease. Here, we encapsulated VICs in poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) hydrogels modified with three different adhesive ligands, derived from fibronectin (RGDS), elastin (VGVAPG) and collagen-1 (P15). By day 14, VICs became significantly more elongated in RGDS-containing gels compared to VGVAPG or P15. This difference in cell morphology appeared to correlate with global matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) activity, as VICs encapsulated in RGDS-functionalized hydrogels secreted higher levels of active MMP at day 2. VIC activation to a myofibroblast phenotype was also characterized by staining for α-smooth muscle actin (αSMA) at day 14. The percentage of αSMA+ VICs in the VGVAPG gels was the highest (56%) compared to RGDS (33%) or P15 (38%) gels. Matrix deposition and composition were also characterized at days 14 and 42 and found to depend on the initial hydrogel composition. All gel formulations had similar levels of collagen, elastin and chondroitin sulphate deposited as the porcine aortic valve. However, the composition of collagen deposited by VICs in VGVAPG-functionalized gels had a significantly higher collagen-X:collagen-1 ratio, which is associated with stenotic valves. Taken together, these data suggest that peptide-functionalized PEG hydrogels are a useful system for culturing VICs three-dimensionally and, with the ability to systematically alter biochemical and biophysical properties, this platform may prove useful in manipulating VIC function for valve regeneration. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Keywords: 3D; ECM deposition; VICs; cell-matrix interactions; hydrogels; αSMA.
Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.