Copper Nanoparticle Cues for Biomimetic Cellular Assembly of Crosslinked Elastin Fibers

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Acta Biomaterialia


Elastin, a structural protein distributed in the extracellular matrix of vascular tissues, is critical to maintaining the elastic stability and mechanical properties of blood vessels, as well as regulating cell-signaling pathways involved in vascular injury response and morphogenesis. Pathological degradation of vascular elastin or its malformation within native vessels and the poor ability to tissue-engineer elastin-rich vascular replacements due to innately poor elastin synthesis by adult vascular cells can compromise vascular homeostasis, and must thus be addressed. Our recent studies attest to the utility of hyaluronan (HA) oligomers for elastin synthesis and organization by adult vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs), though the elastin matrix yields in these cases were quite low relative to total elastin produced. Thus, in this study, we investigated the utility of copper (Cu2+) ions to enhance cellular elastin deposition, crosslinking and maturation into structural fibers. Copper nanoparticles (CuNPs; 80-100 nm) in the dose range of 1-100 ng ml-1 were tested for Cu2+ ion release, and based on mathematical modeling of their release profiles, CuNPs (1, 10, and 400 ng ml-1) were chosen for supplementation to adult SMC cultures. The 400 ng ml-1 dose of CuNPs cumulatively delivered Cu2+ doses in the range of 0.1 M, over the 21 day culture period. It was observed that while exogenous CuNP supplements do not up-regulate tropoelastin production by vascular SMCs, they promoted formation of crosslinked elastin matrices. The deposition of crosslinked matrix elastin was further improved by the additional presence of HA oligomers in these cultures. Immunofluorescence imaging and structural analysis of the isolated elastin matrices indicate that amorphous elastin clumps were formed within non-additive control cultures, while aggregating elastin fibrils were observed within SMC cultures treated with CuNPs (1-10 ng ml-1) alone or together with HA oligomers. The presence of 400 ng ml-1 of CuNPs concurrent with HA oligomers furthered aggregation of these elastin fibrils into mature fibers with diameters ranging from 200 to 500 nm. Ultrastructural analysis of elastin matrix within cultures treated with HA oligomers and 400 ng ml-1 of CuNPs suggest that elastin matrix deposition as stimulated by Cu2+ ions proceeds via a fibrillin-mediated assembly process, with enhanced crosslinking occurring via stimulation of lysyl oxidase. Overall, the data suggest that CuNPs and HA oligomers are highly useful for regenerating crosslinked, fibrillar elastin matrices by adult vascular SMCs. These results have immense utility in tissue-engineering vascular replacements. © 2008 Acta Materialia Inc.