An in vitro model of fibrosis using crosslinked native extracellular matrix-derived hydrogels to modulate biomechanics without changing composition

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Extracellular matrix (ECM) is a dynamic network of proteins, proteoglycans and glycosaminoglycans, providing structure to the tissue and biochemical and biomechanical instructions to the resident cells. In fibrosis, the composition and the organization of the ECM are altered, and these changes influence cellular behaviour. Biochemical (i. e. protein composition) and biomechanical changes in ECM take place simultaneously in vivo. Investigating these changes individually in vitro to examine their (patho)physiological effects has been difficult. In this study, we generated an in vitro model to reflect the altered mechanics of a fibrotic microenvironment through applying fibre crosslinking via ruthenium/sodium persulfate crosslinking on native lung ECM-derived hydrogels. Crosslinking of the hydrogels without changing the biochemical composition of the ECM resulted in increased stiffness and decreased viscoelastic stress relaxation. The altered stress relaxation behaviour was explained using a generalized Maxwell model. Fibre analysis of the hydrogels showed that crosslinked hydrogels had a higher percentage of matrix with a high density and a shorter average fibre length. Fibroblasts seeded on ruthenium-crosslinked lung ECM-derived hydrogels showed myofibroblastic differentiation with a loss of spindle-like morphology together with greater α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) expression, increased nuclear area and circularity without any decrease in the viability, compared with the fibroblasts seeded on the native lung-derived ECM hydrogels. In summary, ruthenium crosslinking of native ECM-derived hydrogels provides an exciting opportunity to alter the biomechanical properties of the ECM-derived hydrogels while maintaining the protein composition of the ECM to study the influence of mechanics during fibrotic lung diseases. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Fibrotic lung disease is characterized by changes in composition and excessive deposition of extracellular matrix (ECM). ECM fibre structure also changes due to crosslinking, which results in mechanical changes. Separating the changes in composition and mechanical properties has been difficult to date. In this study, we developed an in vitro model that allows alteration of the mechanical changes alone by applying fibre crosslinking in native lung ECM-derived hydrogels. Characterisations of the crosslinked hydrogels indicated the model mimicked mechanical properties of fibrotic lung tissue and reflected altered fibre organisation. This ECM-based fibrosis model provides a method to preserve the native protein composition while altering the mechanical properties providing an important tool not only for lung but also other organ fibrosis.

Originele taal-2English
Pagina's (van-tot)50-62
Aantal pagina's23
TijdschriftActa Biomaterialia
Vroegere onlinedatum21-mei-2022
StatusPublished - 15-jul.-2022


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