Endothelial Cell Function Using a Tissue Engineered Blood Vessel Model: A Case Study of Cell-Cell Communication
Johnson, Tiffany Lynn
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Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease which develops focally in regions of the vasculature where there is dysfunction of endothelial cells modulated in part by shear stress from flowing blood. To address the clinical crisis of atherosclerosis, tissue engineering has focused on development of a living blood vessel substitute for use as a vascular graft in bypass surgery. Despite substantial progress in understanding the biological basis and developing clinical treatments for cardiovascular disease, critical challenges remain. As a novel strategy to improve understanding of basic human vascular biology and develop superior tissue engineered grafts, this dissertation combines the scientific and clinical approaches by using a tissue engineered blood vessel as a more physiologic in vitro model to study endothelial cell biology. Through the use of transcriptional profiling, results demonstrate significant changes in endothelial cell gene expression using the tissue engineered blood vessel model. Furthermore, the presence of a more physiologic substrate alters the cellular response to shear stress which is a critical mediator of vascular pathology. A case study of endothelial cell function in this system focuses on cell-cell communication through gap junctions. Endothelial cell connexins which form gap junctions are shown to be differentially regulated by substrate and shear stress. Moreover, gap junction communication between endothelial cells is modulated by the mechanical environment. Studies using RNA interference to knockdown expression of individual connexin isotypes demonstrate integrated regulation of connexins yet unique roles in endothelial cell function. Collectively, results exemplify the sensitivity of endothelial cell phenotype to substrate and shear stress and underline the importance of using more physiologic models in the study of basic cell biology.