In vitro simulation of calcific aortic valve disease in three-dimensional bioprinted models
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BACKGROUND: Calcific aortic valve disease (CAVD) is the most prevalent heart valve disease in the developed world, claiming almost 17,000 deaths annually in the United States. The lack of noninvasive therapeutics to slow or halt the disease warrants the need for further understanding of the pathobiological mechanisms of CAVD. A tri-laminar structure of aortic valve determines the biomechanical properties of its leaflets. Valvular endothelial cells (VECs) and interstitial cells (VICs) are responsible for valve structural integrity. Traditional two-dimensional culture conditions spontaneously activate the pathological differentiation of VICs making in vitro studies challenging. A monolayered three-dimensional (3D) hydrogel platform was recently developed as a novel in vitro culture system to study the phenotypic changes of VICs leading to microcalcification (early stages of calcification). This system, however, did not fully recapitulate the microenvironment of native valve tissues because of the lack of individual layer representations and endothelial coverage. Bioprinting technology, which allows precise and integrated positioning of cells, matrix, and biomolecules, may provide an innovative approach toward building a more biologically relevant 3D culture platform. OBJECTIVE: This study aims to lay the groundwork for building a multilayered 3D-bioprinted culture platform to study CAVD by first validating the use of bioprinting in monolayered cell-laden 3D hydrogel constructs. METHODS: Human VICs were isolated from patients undergoing valve replacement surgeries at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston, MA) according to Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocols. VICs were expanded in culture medium containing growth factors for up to 6 passages and then encapsulated in hydrogels using 3D bioprinting technology. After encapsulation, VIC-laden 3D constructs were cultured in either normal or osteogenic conditions for 21 days. Microcalcification, cell proliferation, and cell apoptosis were evaluated using fluorescent staining and confocal microscopy. Results were compared with results from VIC-laden hydrogels made manually. RESULTS: An increase in microcalcification was observed throughout bioprinted VIC-laden hydrogel constructs cultured in osteogenic conditions for 21 days, whereas normal conditions developed negligible calcification signals. Cell proliferation and apoptosis were not significantly different between normal and osteogenic groups in bioprinted hydrogels. Cell-free hydrogels did not exhibit any microcalcification. Overall, bioprinted hydrogels showed less nonspecific background staining than handmade hydrogels, thus providing a better means for quantitative assessments of 3D culture platforms. CONCLUSION: Based on bioprinting technology, an improved monolayered cell-laden hydrogel platform was successfully established as a first step toward building an in vitro multilayered disease model for studying the pathobiological mechanisms of CAVD. The results in this study were consistent with current literature that proposes calcification as a cell-dependent, apoptotic-independent, and proliferation-independent pathway.