Optimising contraction and alignment of cellular collagen hydrogels to achieve reliable and consistent engineered anisotropic tissue

O'Rourke, Caitriona; Drake, Rosemary A. L.; Cameron, Grant W. W.; Loughlin, A. Jane and Phillips, James B. (2015). Optimising contraction and alignment of cellular collagen hydrogels to achieve reliable and consistent engineered anisotropic tissue. Journal of Biomaterials Applications, 30(5) pp. 599–607.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0885328215597818

Abstract

Engineered anisotropic tissue constructs containing aligned cell and extracellular matrix structures are useful as in vitro models and for regenerative medicine. They are of particular interest for nervous system modelling and regeneration, where tracts of aligned neurons and glia are required. The self-alignment of cells and matrix due to tension within tethered collagen gels is a useful tool for generating anisotropic tissues, but requires an optimal balance between cell density, matrix concentration and time to be achieved for each specific cell type. The aim of this study was to develop an assay system based on contraction of free-floating cellular gels in 96-well plates that could be used to investigate cell-matrix interactions and to establish optimal parameters for subsequent self-alignment of cells in tethered gels. Using C6 glioma cells, the relationship between contraction and alignment was established, with 60-80% contraction in the 96-well plate assay corresponding to alignment throughout tethered gels made using the same parameters. The assay system was used to investigate the effect of C6 cell density, collagen concentration and time. It was also used to show that blocking α1 integrin reduced the contraction and self-alignment of these cells, whereas blocking α2 integrin had little effect. The approach was validated by using primary astrocytes in the assay system under culture conditions that modified their ability to contract collagen gels. This detailed investigation describes a robust assay for optimising cellular self-alignment and provides a useful reference framework for future development of self-aligned artificial tissue.

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