Background: Co-cultures of endothelial cells with mesenchymal stem cells currently represent one of the most promising approaches in providing oxygen and nutrient supply for microvascular tissue engineering. Still, to translate this model into clinics several in vitro parameters including growth medium and scaffold degradation need to be fine-tuned.
Methods: We recently described the co-culture of adipose-derived stem cells with endothelial cells in fibrin, resulting in capillary formation in vitro as well as their perfusion in vivo. Here, we aimed to further characterise microvascular tube formation in fibrin by determining the role of scaffold degradation, thrombin concentration and culture conditions on vascularisation.
Results: We observed that inhibition of cell-mediated fibrin degradation by the commonly used inhibitor aprotinin resulted in impaired vascular network formation. Aprotinin had no effect on laminin and collagen type IV deposition or formation of tube-like structures in scaffold-free co-culture, indicating that poor vascularisation of fibrin clots is primarily caused by inhibition of plasminogen-driven fibrinolysis. Co-culture in plasminogen- and factor XIII-depleted fibrin did not result in different vascular network density compared to controls. Furthermore, we demonstrate that thrombin negatively affects vascular network density at high concentrations. However, only transient activation of incorporated endothelial cells by thrombin could be observed, thus excluding a long-term inflammatory response in tissue-engineered micro-capillaries. Finally, we show that vascularisation of fibrin scaffolds in basal medium is undermined because of increased fibrinolytic activity leading to scaffold destabilisation without aprotinin.
Conclusions: Taken together, our data reveal a critical role of fibrinolysis inhibition in in vitro cell-mediated vascularisation of fibrin scaffolds.
Keywords: Adipose-derived stem cells; Endothelial cells; Fibrin; Vascularisation.