Elastin, a structural protein distributed in the extracellular matrix of vascular tissues is critical to the maintenance of vascular mechanics, besides regulation of cell-signaling pathways involved in injury response and morphogenesis. Thus, congenital absence or disease-mediated degradation of vascular elastin and its malformation within native vessels due to innately poor elastin synthesis by adult vascular cells compromise vascular homeostasis. Current elastin regenerative strategies using tissue engineering principles are limited by the progressive destabilization of tropoelastin mRNA expression in adult vascular cells and the unavailability of scaffolds that can provide cellular cues necessary to up-regulate elastin synthesis and regenerate faithful mimics of native elastin. Since our earlier studies demonstrated the elastogenic utility of hyaluronan (HA)-based cues, we have currently sought to identify a unique set of culture conditions based on HA fragments (0.756-2000 kDa), growth factors (TGF-beta1, IGF-1) and other biomolecules (Cu2+ ions, LOX), which will together enhance synthesis, crosslinking, maturation and fibrous elastin matrix formation by adult SMCs, under both healthy and inflammatory conditions. It was observed that TGF-beta1 (1 ng/mL) together with HA oligomers (0.2 microg/mL) synergistically suppressed SMC proliferation, enhanced tropoelastin (8-fold) and matrix elastin synthesis (5.5-fold), besides improving matrix yield (4.5-fold), possibly by increasing production and activity of lysyl oxidase (LOX). Though addition of IGF-1 alone did not offer any advantage, HA fragments (20-200 kDa) in the presence of IGF-1 stimulated tropoelastin and soluble elastin synthesis more than 2.2-fold, with HMW HA contributing for ~5-fold increase in crosslinked matrix elastin synthesis. Similarly, 0.1 M of Cu2+ ions, alone or together with HA fragments stimulated synthesis of tropoelastin (4-fold) and crosslinked matrix elastin (4.5-fold), via increases in LOX protein synthesis (2.5-fold); these cues also enhanced deposition of mature elastic fibers (~ 1 micron diameter) within these cultures. Interestingly, instead of copper salt addition, even release of Cu2+ ions (~ 0.1 M) from copper nanoparticles (400 ng/mL), concurrent with HA oligomers, promoted crosslinking of elastin into mature matrix, with multiple bundles of highly-crosslinked elastin fiber formation observed (diameter ~ 200-500 nm). These results strongly attest to the potential individual and combined benefits of these cues to faithful elastin matrix regeneration by healthy, patient-derived cells within tissue-engineered vascular constructs.
When these cues (TGF-beta1 and HA oligomers) were added to TNF-alpha-stimulated SMC cultures, model cell culture systems mimicking phenotypically-altered cells within aneurysms, they upregulated elastin matrix production, organized elastin protein into fibers, and simultaneously stabilized this matrix by attenuating production of elastolytic enzymes. Similarly these cues also attenuated inflammatory cytokines release within cells isolated from induced-aortic aneurysms in rats, and significantly upregulated elastin synthesis and matrix formation by upregulating LOX and desmosine protein amounts. The cues were also highly effective in organizing the elastin into fibrous matrix structures mimicking the native elastin deposition process. The outcomes of this study might be of tremendous use in optimizing design of HA constructs to modulate vascular healing and matrix synthesis following revascularization, and in enabling repair of elastin networks within diseased or inflammatory (aneurysmal) adult vascular tissues.