Quantifying structural features of native myocardium in engineered tissue is essential for creating functional tissue that can serve as a surrogate for in vitro testing or the eventual replacement of diseased or injured myocardium. We applied three-dimensional confocal imaging and image analysis to quantitatively describe the features of native and engineered cardiac tissue. Quantitative analysis methods were developed and applied to test the hypothesis that environmental cues direct engineered tissue toward a phenotype resembling that of age-matched native myocardium. The analytical approach was applied to engineered cardiac tissue with and without the application of electrical stimulation as well as to age-matched and adult native tissue. Individual myocytes were segmented from confocal image stacks and assigned a coordinate system from which measures of cell geometry and connexin-43 spatial distribution were calculated. The data were collected from 9 nonstimulated and 12 electrically stimulated engineered tissue constructs and 5 postnatal day 12 and 7 adult hearts. The myocyte volume fraction was nearly double in stimulated engineered tissue compared to nonstimulated engineered tissue (0.34 ± 0.14 vs 0.18 ± 0.06) but less than half of the native postnatal day 12 (0.90 ± 0.06) and adult (0.91 ± 0.04) myocardium. The myocytes under electrical stimulation were more elongated compared to nonstimulated myocytes and exhibited similar lengths, widths, and heights as in age-matched myocardium. Furthermore, the percentage of connexin-43-positive membrane staining was similar in the electrically stimulated, postnatal day 12, and adult myocytes, whereas it was significantly lower in the nonstimulated myocytes. Connexin-43 was found to be primarily located at cell ends for adult myocytes and irregularly but densely clustered over the membranes of nonstimulated, stimulated, and postnatal day 12 myocytes. These findings support our hypothesis and reveal that the application of environmental cues produces tissue with structural features more representative of age-matched native myocardium than adult myocardium. We suggest that the presented approach can be applied to quantitatively characterize developmental processes and mechanisms in engineered tissue.
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