Vascularization of engineered tissues in vitro remains a major challenge in liver tissue engineering. Liver microvessels, termed liver sinusoids, have highly specialized structures, and recapturing these sinusoidal structures is essential for reconstruction of functional liver tissue in vitro. Liver sinusoids are composed of hepatocytes, hepatic stellate cells (HSCs), and endothelial cells (ECs). Direct HSC-EC contacts are increasingly recognized for their roles in EC capillary morphogenesis. However, the hypothetical role of HSC-EC contacts in morphogenesis remains unclear in hepatocyte-HSC-EC triculture. In the present study, we first determined the effects of direct HSC-EC contacts on EC capillary morphogenesis using a hepatocyte-HSC-EC triculture model where HSC behavior was spatially controlled to achieve HSC-mediated proximal layers of hepatocytes and ECs. EC capillary morphogenesis was induced by overlaying Matrigel on an EC layer. Direct HSC-EC contacts inhibited EC capillary morphogenesis, suggesting that the HSC-EC contacts may be an important factor in capillary formation. We next tested the hypothesis that, in addition to spatial control, temporal control of HSC behavior is also important in achieving capillary morphogenesis in the triculture. ECs responded to the induction of capillary morphogenesis before the formation of direct HSC-EC contacts, while the ECs remained to form monolayers when capillary morphogenesis was induced after the HSC-EC contacts were established. When capillary morphogenesis was successfully achieved in the triculture, HSCs tended to preferably localize near the preformed capillary-like structures, resulting in the reconstruction of liver sinusoidal structures. In these structures, hepatocyte maturation was induced. Our findings indicate that control, both spatial and temporal, of HSC behavior is a key engineering strategy for the vascularization of engineered liver tissue in vitro.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biomedical Engineering