Remodeling of an in vitro microvessel exposed to cyclic mechanical stretch


  • S. Zeinali
  • E.K. Thompson
  • H. Gerhardt
  • T. Geiser
  • O.T. Guenat


  • APL bioengineering


  • APL Bioeng 5 (2): 026102


  • In the lungs, vascular endothelial cells experience cyclic mechanical strain resulting from rhythmic breathing motions and intraluminal blood pressure. Mechanical stress creates evident physiological, morphological, biochemical, and gene expression changes in vascular endothelial cells. However, the exact mechanisms of the mechanical signal transduction into biological responses remain to be clarified. Besides, the level of mechanical stress is difficult to determine due to the complexity of the local distension patterns in the lungs and thus assumed to be the same as the one acting on the alveolar epithelium. Existing in vitro models used to investigate the effect of mechanical stretch on endothelial cells are usually limited to two-dimensional (2D) cell culture platforms, which poorly mimic the typical three-dimensional structure of the vessels. Therefore, the development of an advanced in vitro vasculature model that closely mimics the dynamic of the human lung vasculatures is highly needed. Here, we present the first study that investigates the interplay of the three-dimensional (3D) mechanical cyclic stretch and its magnitude with vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) stimulation on a 3D perfusable vasculature in vitro. We studied the effects of the cyclic strain on a perfusable 3D vasculature, made of either human lung microvascular endothelial cells or human umbilical vein endothelial cells embedded in a gel layer. The in vitro 3D vessels underwent both in vivo-like longitudinal and circumferential deformations, simultaneously. Our results showed that the responses of the human lung microvascular endothelial cells and human umbilical vein endothelial cells to cyclic stretch were in good agreement. Although our 3D model was in agreement with the 2D model in predicting a cytoskeletal remodeling in response to different magnitudes of cyclic stretch, however, we observed several phenomena in the 3D model that the 2D model was unable to predict. Angiogenic sprouting induced by VEGF decreased significantly in the presence of cyclic stretch. Similarly, while treatment with VEGF increased vascular permeability, the cyclic stretch restored vascular barrier tightness and significantly decreased vascular permeability. One of the major findings of this study was that a 3D microvasculature can be exposed to a much higher mechanical cyclic stress level than reported in the literature without any dysfunction of its barrier. For higher magnitudes of the cyclic stretch, the applied longitudinal strain level was 14% and the associated circumferential strain reached the equivalent of 63%. In sharp contrast to our findings, such strain typically leads to the disruption of the endothelial barrier in a 2D stretching assay and is considered pathological. This highlights the importance of 3D modeling to investigate mechanobiology effects rather than using a simple endothelial monolayer, which truly recapitulates the in vivo situation.