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Abstract

Cooperation between endothelial cells and pericytes is essential to the stabilization and maturation of blood microvessels. We developed a unique in vitro tissue-engineered model to study angiogenesis. The human endothelialized reconstructed connective tissue model promotes the formation of a three-dimensional branching network of capillary-like tubes (CLT) with closed lumens. The purpose of this work was to investigate whether pericytes were spontaneously recruited around CLT in the model. We demonstrated that smooth muscle α-actin (SMA)-positive cells were found closely associated with PECAM-1-positive capillaries in the model. Twelve percent (±2.6) of SMA-positive cells were detected along with 15% (±1.64) von Willebrand factor-positive endothelial cells in the culture system after 31 days of in vitro maturation. Conversely, no SMA-positive cells were detected in reconstructed connective tissues made solely of fibroblasts. Knowing that PDGF is a major factor in the recruitment of pericytes, we showed that blockade of the PDGFB receptor using the inhibitor AG1296 induced an overall 5, 2.6, and 2.4-fold decrease in the SMA-positive cells, von Willebrand factor-positive cells, and number of capillaries, respectively. Using combinations of human GFP-positive fibroblasts and endothelial cells, we demonstrated that pericytes were recruited from the fibroblast population in the model. In conclusion, our tissue-engineered culture system promotes the spontaneous formation of a network of capillaries and the recruitment of pericytes derived from fibroblasts. Since pericytes are essential components of the blood microvasculature, this culture system is a powerful model to study angiogenesis and endothelial cell/pericyte interactions in vitro. J. Cell. Physiol. 227: 2130–2137, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.