Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) are attractive cell sources for engineered tissue constructs with broad therapeutic potential. Three-dimensional (3D) hMSC tissue development in nonwoven poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) fibrous matrices was investigated. HMSCs were seeded onto 3D PET scaffolds and were cultured for over 1 month. Their proliferation rates were affected by seeding density but remained much lower than those of 2D controls. Compared to 2D surfaces, hMSCs grown in 3D scaffolds secreted and embedded themselves in an extensive ECM network composed of collagen I, collagen IV, fibronectin, and laminin. HMSCs were influenced by the orientation of adjacent PET fibers to organize the ECM proteins into highly aligned fibrils. We observed the increased expressions of α2β1 integrin but a slight decrease in the expression of α5β1 integrin in 3D compared to 2D culture and found that αVβ3 was expressed only in 2D. Paxillin expression was down-regulated in 3D culture with a concomitant change in its localization patterns. We demonstrated the multi-lineage potentials of the 3D tissue constructs by differentiating the cells grown in the scaffolds into osteoblasts and adipocytes. Taken together, these results showed that hMSCs grown in 3D scaffolds display tissue development patterns distinct from their 2D counterparts and provide important clues for designing 3D scaffolds for developing tissue engineered constructs.
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