The characterization of aortic valve interstitial cells (VICs) cultured under optimal conditions is essential for understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying aortic valve stenosis. Here, we propose 2% hypoxia as an optimum VIC culture condition. Leaflets harvested from patients with aortic valve regurgitation were digested using collagenase and VICs were cultured under the 2% hypoxic condition. A significant increase in VIC growth was observed in 2% hypoxia (hypo-VICs), compared to normoxia (normo-VICs). RNA-sequencing revealed that downregulation of oxidative stress-marker genes (such as superoxide dismutase) and upregulation of cell cycle accelerators (such as cyclins) occurred in hypo-VICs. Accumulation of reactive oxygen species was observed in normo-VICs, indicating that low oxygen tension can avoid oxidative stress with cell-cycle arrest. Further mRNA quantifications revealed significant upregulation of several mesenchymal and hematopoietic progenitor markers, including CD34, in hypo-VICs. The stemness of hypo-VICs was confirmed using osteoblast differentiation assays, indicating that hypoxic culture is beneficial for maintaining growth and stemness, as well as for avoiding senescence via oxidative stress. The availability of hypoxic culture was also demonstrated in the molecular screening using proteomics. Therefore, hypoxic culture can be helpful for the identification of therapeutic targets and the evaluation of VIC molecular functions in vitro.
Keywords: aortic valve; hypoxia; interstitial cells; oxidative stress.