Vasculogenesis and Angiogenesis in Modular Collagen-Fibrin Microtissues

Biomater Sci. 2014 Oct 1;2(10):1497-1508. doi: 10.1039/C4BM00141A.


The process of new blood vessel formation is critical in tissue development, remodeling and regeneration. Modular tissue engineering approaches have been developed to enable the bottom-up assembly of more complex tissues, including vascular networks. In this study, collagen-fibrin composite microbeads (100-300 μm in diameter) were fabricated using a water-in-oil emulsion technique. Human endothelial cells and human fibroblasts were embedded directly in the microbead matrix at the time of fabrication. Microbead populations were characterized and cultured for 14 days either as free-floating populations or embedded in a surrounding fibrin gel. The collagen-fibrin matrix efficiently entrapped cells and supported their viability and spreading. By 7 days in culture, endothelial cell networks were evident within microbeads, and these structures became more prominent by day 14. Fibroblasts co-localized with endothelial cells, suggesting a pericyte-like function, and laminin deposition indicated maturation of the vessel networks over time. Microbeads embedded in a fibrin gel immediately after fabrication showed the emergence of cells and the coalescence of vessel structures in the surrounding matrix by day 7. By day 14, inosculation of neighboring cords and prominent vessel structures were observed. Microbeads pre-cultured for 7 days prior to embedding in fibrin gave rise to vessel networks that emanated radially from the microbead by day 7, and developed into connected networks by day 14. Lumen formation in endothelial cell networks was confirmed using confocal sectioning. These data show that collagen-fibrin composite microbeads support vascular network formation. Microbeads embedded directly after fabrication emulated the process of vasculogenesis, while the branching and joining of vessels from pre-cultured microbeads resembled angiogenesis. This modular microtissue system has utility in studying the processes involved in new vessel formation, and may be developed into a therapy for the treatment of ischemic conditions.