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Keywords:

  • vascular tissue engineering;
  • endothelial cell;
  • fluid flow;
  • electrospinning;
  • scaffold

ABSTRACT

Bioengineered vascular grafts provide a promising alternative to autografts for replacing diseased or damaged arteries, but necessitate scaffold designs capable of supporting a confluent endothelium that resists endothelial cell (EC) detachment under fluid flow. To this end, we investigated whether tuning electrospun topography (i.e., fiber diameter and orientation) could impact EC morphology, alignment, and structural protein organization with the goal of forming a confluent and well-adhered endothelium under fluid flow. To test this, a composite polymer blend of poly(ϵ-caprolactone) (PCL) and type I collagen was electrospun to form scaffolds with controlled fiber diameters ranging from approximately 100–1,200 nm and with varying degrees of fiber alignment. ECs were seeded onto scaffolds, and cell morphology and degree of alignment were quantified using image analysis of fluorescently stained cells. Our results show that ECs form confluent monolayers on electrospun scaffolds, with cell alignment systematically increasing with a larger degree of fiber orientation. Additionally, cells on aligned electrospun scaffolds display thick F-actin bundles parallel to the direction of fiber alignment and strong VE-cadherin expression at cell–cell junctions. Under fluid flow, ECs on highly aligned scaffolds had greater resistance to detachment compared to cells cultured on randomly oriented and semi-aligned scaffolds. These results indicate that scaffolds with aligned topographies may be useful in forming a confluent endothelium with enhanced EC adhesion for vascular tissue engineering applications. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2014;111: 184–195. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.