Background: Delivery of stem cells to the failing heart is a promising therapeutic strategy. However, the improvement in cardiac function in animal studies has not fully translated to humans. To help bridge the gap between species, we investigated the effects of adult human cardiac stem cells (hCSCs) on contractile function of human engineered cardiac tissues (hECTs) as a species-specific model of the human myocardium.
Methods: Human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyoctes (hCMs) were mixed with Collagen/Matrigel to fabricate control hECTs, with an experimental group of hCSC-supplemented hECT fabricated using a 9:1 ratio of hCM to hCSC. Functional testing was performed starting on culture day 6, under spontaneous conditions and also during electrical pacing from 0.25 to 1.0 Hz, measurements repeated at days 8 and 10. hECTs were then frozen and processed for gene analysis using a Nanostring assay with a cardiac targeted custom panel.
Results: The hCSC-supplemented hECTs displayed a twofold higher developed force vs. hCM-only controls by day 6, with approximately threefold higher developed stress and maximum rates of contraction and relaxation during pacing at 0.75 Hz. The spontaneous beat rate characteristics were similar between groups, and hCSC supplementation did not adversely impact beat rate variability. The increased contractility persisted through days 8 and 10, albeit with some decrease in the magnitude of the difference of the force by day 10, but with developed stress still significantly higher in hCSC-supplemented hECT; these findings were confirmed with multiple hCSC and hCM cell lines. The force-frequency relationship, while negative for both, control (- 0.687 Hz- 1; p = 0.013 vs. zero) and hCSC-supplemented (- 0.233 Hz- 1;p = 0.067 vs. zero) hECTs, showed a significant rectification in the regression slope in hCSC-supplemented hECT (p = 0.011 vs. control). Targeted gene exploration (59 genes) identified a total of 14 differentially expressed genes, with increases in the ratios of MYH7/MHY6, MYL2/MYL7, and TNNI3/TNNI1 in hCSC-supplemented hECT versus controls.
Conclusions: For the first time, hCSC supplementation was shown to significantly improve human cardiac tissue contractility in vitro, without evidence of proarrhythmic effects, and was associated with increased expression of markers of cardiac maturation. These findings provide new insights about adult cardiac stem cells as contributors to functional improvement of human myocardium.
Keywords: Cardiomyocyte maturation; Contractility; Human cardiac stem cells; Human engineered cardiac tissue; Myocardial function.