Acta biomaterialia

Immunomodulatory polymeric scaffold enhances extracellular matrix production in cell co-cultures under dynamic mechanical stimulation.

PMID 26093069


Despite the importance of immune cells in regulating the wound healing process following injury, there are few examples of synthetic biomaterials that have the capacity to push the body's immune cells toward pro-regeneration phenotypes, and fewer still that are designed with the intention of achieving this immunomodulatory character. While monocytes and their derived macrophages have been recognized as important contributors to tissue remodeling in vivo, this is primarily believed to be due to their ability to regulate other cell types. The ability of monocytes and macrophages to generate tissue products themselves, however, is currently not well appreciated within the field of tissue regeneration. Furthermore, while monocytes/macrophages are found in remodeling tissue that is subjected to mechanical loading, the effect this biomechanical strain on monocytes/macrophages and their ability to regulate tissue-specific cellular activity has not been understood due to the complexity of the many factors involved in the in vivo setting, hence necessitating the use of controlled in vitro culture platforms to investigate this phenomenon. In this study, human monocytes were co-cultured with human coronary artery smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) on a tubular (3mm ID) degradable polyurethane scaffold, with a unique combination of non-ionic polar, hydrophobic and ionic chemistry (D-PHI). The goal was to determine if such a synthetic matrix could be used in a co-culture system along with dynamic biomechanical stimulus (10% circumferential strain, 1Hz) conditions in order to direct monocytes to enhance tissue generation, and to better comprehend the different ways in which monocytes/macrophages may contribute to new tissue production. Mechanical strain and monocyte co-culture had a complementary and non-mitigating effect on VSMC growth. Co-culture samples demonstrated increased deposition of sulphated glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and elastin, as well as increases in the release of FGF-2, a growth factor that can stimulate VSMC growth, while dynamic culture supported increases in collagen I and III as well as increased mechanical properties (elastic modulus, tensile strength) vs. static controls. Macrophage polarization toward an M1 state was not promoted by the biomaterial or culture conditions tested. Monocytes/macrophages cultured on D-PHI were also shown to produce vascular extracellular matrix components, including collagen I, collagen III, elastin, and GAGs. This study highlights the use of synthetic biomaterials having immunomodulatory character in order to promote cell and tissue growth when used in tissue engineering strategies, and identifies ECM deposition by monocytes/macrophages as an unexpected source of this new tissue. The ability of biomaterials to regulate macrophage activation towards a wound healing phenotype has recently been shown to support positive tissue regeneration. However, the ability of immunomodulatory biomaterials to harness monocyte/macrophage activity to support tissue engineering strategies in vitro holds enormous potential that has yet to be investigated. This study used a monocyte co-culture on a degradable polyurethane (D-PHI) to regulate the response of VSMCs in combination with biomechanical strain in a vascular tissue engineering context. Results demonstrate that immunomodulatory biomaterials, such as D-PHI, that support a desirable macrophage activation state can be combined with biomechanical strain to augment vascular tissue production in vitro, in part due to the novel and unexpected contribution of monocytes/macrophages themselves producing vascular ECM proteins.