The remodeling of fibroblast-seeded collagen gels in response to dynamic mechanical stimuli was investigated by using a newly developed biaxial culture system capable of cyclically stretching planar soft tissues. Fibroblast-seeded collagen gels were subjected to three distinct dynamic mechanical conditions for six days: Cyclic Equibiaxial Stretching at two constant strain magnitudes (CES-7% and CES-20%), and Cyclic Equibiaxial Stretching with incrementally Increasing stain magnitude (ICES, 7% → 15% → 20% each for two days). The frequency of cyclic stretching was set at 1 Hz. At the end of culture, mechanical properties of the gels were examined by biaxial mechanical testing and checked again upon the removal of seeded cells. Collagen microstructure within the gels was illustrated by multiphoton microscopy. The mRNA levels of collagen type I and type III and fibronectin in the cells were examined by reverse transcription PCR. The protein expression of α-smooth muscle actin was detected by immunohistochemistry. We found that the gels cultured under cyclic stretching were stiffer than those cultured under static stretching. Particularly, the stiffness appeared to be significantly enhanced when the ICES was employed. The enhancement of mechanical properties by cyclic stretching appeared to persist upon cell removal, suggesting an irreversible remodeling of extracellular matrix. Second harmonic generation images showed that collagen fibers became thicker and more compact in the gels cultured under cyclic stretching, which may explain the mechanical findings. The mRNA expression of collagen type I in the cells of the ICES was significantly greater than that of the other groups except for the CES-20%. This study suggests that when cyclic stretching is to be used in engineering soft tissues, incrementally increasing strain magnitude may prove useful in the development of the tissue.
- 3D cell culture
- Cyclic stretching
- Fibroblast-seeded collagen gels
- Mechanical properties