Extracellular Matrix Profiling and Disease Modelling in Engineered Vascular Smooth Muscle Cell Tissues

Ella Reed, Adam Fellows, Ruifang Lu, Marieke Rienks, Lukas Schmidt, Xiaoke Yin, Elisa Duregotti, Mona Brandt, Susanne Krasemann, Kristin Hartmann, Javier Barallobre-Barreiro, Owen Addison, Friederike Cuello, Arne Hansen, Manuel Mayr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Aortic smooth muscle cells (SMCs) have an intrinsic role in regulating vessel homeostasis and pathological remodelling. In two-dimensional (2D) cell culture formats, however, SMCs are not embedded in their physiological extracellular matrix (ECM) environment. To overcome the limitations of conventional 2D SMC cultures, we established a 3D in vitro model of engineered vascular smooth muscle cell tissues (EVTs). EVTs were casted from primary murine aortic SMCs by suspending a SMC-fibrin master mix between two flexible silicon-posts at day 0 before prolonged culture up to 14 days. Immunohistochemical analysis of EVT longitudinal sections demonstrated that SMCs were aligned, viable and secretory. Mass spectrometry-based proteomics analysis of murine EVT lysates was performed and identified 135 matrisome proteins. Proteoglycans, including the large aggregating proteoglycan versican, accumulated within EVTs by day 7 of culture. This was followed by the deposition of collagens, elastin-binding proteins and matrix regulators up to day 14 of culture. In contrast to 2D SMC controls, accumulation of versican occurred in parallel to an increase in versikine, a cleavage product mediated by proteases of the A Disintegrin and Metalloproteinase with Thrombospondin motifs (ADAMTS) family. Next, we tested the response of EVTs to stimulation with transforming growth factor beta-1 (TGFβ-1). EVTs contracted in response to TGFβ-1 stimulation with altered ECM composition. In contrast, treatment with the pharmacological activin-like kinase inhibitor (ALKi) SB 431542 suppressed ECM secretion. As a disease stimulus, we performed calcification assays. The ECM acts as a nidus for calcium phosphate deposition in the arterial wall. We compared the onset and extent of calcification in EVTs and 2D SMCs cultured under high calcium and phosphate conditions for 7 days. Calcified EVTs displayed increased tissue stiffness by up to 30 % compared to non-calcified controls. Unlike the rapid calcification of SMCs in 2D cultures, EVTs sustained expression of the calcification inhibitor matrix Gla protein and allowed for better discrimination of the calcification propensity between independent biological replicates. In summary, EVTs are an intuitive and versatile model to investigate ECM synthesis and turnover by SMCs in a 3D environment. Unlike conventional 2D cultures, EVTs provide a more relevant pathophysiological model for retention of the nascent ECM produced by SMCs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100122
JournalMatrix Biology Plus
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • 3D cell culture
  • Calcification
  • ECM
  • Proteomics
  • Smooth muscle cells
  • Tissue engineering


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