Engineered fibrous tissues consisting of cells encapsulated within collagen gels are widely used three-dimensional in vitro models of morphogenesis and wound healing. Although cell-mediated matrix remodeling that occurs within these scaffolds has been extensively studied, less is known about the mesoscale physical principles governing the dynamics of tissue shape. Here, we show both experimentally and by using computer simulations how surface contraction through the development of surface stresses (analogous to surface tension in fluids) coordinates with bulk contraction to drive shape evolution in constrained three-dimensional microtissues. We used microelectromechanical systems technology to generate arrays of fibrous microtissues and robot-assisted microsurgery to perform local incisions and implantation. We introduce a technique based on phototoxic activation of a small molecule to selectively kill cells in a spatially controlled manner. The model simulations, which reproduced the experimentally observed shape changes after surgical and photochemical operations, indicate that fitting of only bulk and surface contractile moduli is sufficient for the prediction of the equilibrium shape of the microtissues. The computational and experimental methods we have developed provide a general framework to study and predict the morphogenic states of contractile fibrous tissues under external loading at multiple length scales.
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