The ability to create cell-derived decellularized matrices in a dish gives researchers the opportunity to possess a bioactive, biocompatible material made up of fibrillar proteins and other factors that recapitulates key features of the native structure and composition of in vivo microenvironments. By using cells in a culture system to provide a natural ECM, decellularization allows for a high degree of customization through the introduction of selected proteins and soluble factors. The culture system, culture medium, cell types, and physical environments can be varied to provide specialized ECMs for wide-ranging applications to study cell-ECM signaling, cell migration, cell differentiation, and tissue engineering purposes. This chapter describes a procedure for performing a detergent and high pH-based extraction that leaves the native, cell-assembled ECM intact while removing cellular materials. We address common evaluation methods for assessing the ECM and its composition as well as potential uses for a decellularized ECM.
During extracellular matrix (ECM) assembly, fibronectin (FN) fibrils are irreversibly converted into a detergent-insoluble form which, through FN's multi-domain structure, can interact with collagens, matricellular proteins, and growth factors to build a definitive matrix. FN also has heparin/heparan sulfate (HS) binding sites. Using HS-deficient CHO cells, we show that the addition of soluble heparin significantly increased the amount of FN matrix that these cells assemble. Sulfated HS glycosaminoglycan (GAG) mimetics similarly increased FN assembly and demonstrated a dependence on GAG sulfation. The length of the heparin chains also plays a role in assembly. Chains of sufficient length to bind to two FN molecules gave maximal stimulation of assembly whereas shorter heparin had less of an effect. Using a decellularized fibroblast matrix for proteolysis, detergent fractionation, and mass spectrometry, we found that the predominant domain within insoluble fibril fragments is FN's major heparin-binding domain HepII (modules III12-14). Multiple HepII domains bind simultaneously to a single heparin chain in size exclusion chromatography analyses. We propose a model in which heparin/HS binding to the HepII domain connects multiple FNs together to facilitate the formation of protein interactions for insoluble fibril assembly.
Retinal fibrosis, characterized by dysregulation of extracellular matrix (ECM) protein deposition by retinal endothelial cells, pigment epithelial cells, and other resident cell-types, is a unifying feature of several common retinal diseases. Fibronectin is an early constituent of newly deposited ECM and serves as a template for assembly of other ECM proteins, including collagens. Under physiologic conditions, fibronectin is found in all layers of Bruch's membrane. Proliferative vitreoretinopathy (PVR), a complication of retinal surgery, is characterized by ECM accumulation. Among the earliest histologic manifestations of diabetic retinopathy (DR) is capillary basement membrane thickening, which occurs due to perturbations in ECM homeostasis. Neovascularization, the hallmark of late stage DR as well as exudative age-related macular degeneration (AMD), involves ECM assembly as a scaffold for the aberrant new vessel architecture. Rodent models of retinal injury demonstrate a key role for fibronectin in complications characteristic of PVR, including retinal detachment. In mouse models of DR, reducing fibronectin gene expression has been shown to arrest the accumulation of ECM in the capillary basement membrane. Alterations in matrix metalloproteinase activity thought to be important in the pathogenesis of AMD impact the turnover of fibronectin matrix as well as collagens. Growth factors involved in PVR, AMD, and DR, such as PDGF and TGFβ, are known to stimulate fibronectin matrix assembly. A deeper understanding of how pathologic ECM deposition contributes to disease progression may help to identify novel targets for therapeutic intervention.
Advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) are a heterogeneous group of compounds that form via non-enzymatic glycation of proteins throughout our lifespan and at a higher rate in certain chronic diseases such as diabetes. AGEs contribute to the progression of fibrosis, in part by stimulating cellular pathways that affect gene expression. Long-lived ECM proteins are targets for non-enzymatic glycation but the question of whether the AGE-modified ECM leads to excess ECM accumulation and fibrosis remains unanswered. In this study, cellular changes due to AGE accretion in the ECM were investigated. Non-enzymatic glycation of proteins in a decellularized fibroblast ECM was achieved by incubating the ECM in a solution of methylglyoxal (MGO). Mass spectrometry of fibronectin (FN) isolated from the glycated matrix identified twenty-eight previously unidentified MGO-derived AGE modification sites including functional sites such as the RGD integrin-binding sequence. Mesangial cells grown on the glycated, decellularized matrix assembled increased amounts of FN matrix. Soluble AGE-modified bovine serum albumin (BSA) also stimulated FN matrix assembly and this effect was reduced by function-blocking antibodies against the receptor for AGE (RAGE). These results indicate that cells respond to AGEs by increasing matrix assembly and that RAGE is involved in this response. This raises the possibility that the accumulation of ECM during the progression of fibrosis may be enhanced by cell interactions with AGEs on a glycated ECM.
Tissue formation and cell differentiation depend on a properly assembled extracellular matrix (ECM). Fibronectin is a key constituent of the pericellular ECM, forming essential connections between cell surface integrin receptors and structural components of the ECM. Recent studies using vertebrate models, conditional gene knockouts, tissue explants, and cell culture systems have identified developmental processes that depend on fibronectin and its receptor α5β1 integrin. We describe requirements for fibronectin matrix in the cardiovascular system, somite and precartilage development, and epithelial-mesenchymal transition. Information about molecular mechanisms shows the importance of fibronectin and integrins during tissue morphogenesis and cell differentiation, as well as their cooperation with growth factors to mediate changes in cell behaviors.
Spinal cord and peripheral nerve injuries require the regeneration of nerve fibers across the lesion site for successful recovery. Providing guidance cues and soluble factors to promote neurite outgrowth and cell survival can enhance repair. The extracellular matrix (ECM) plays a key role in tissue repair by controlling cell adhesion, motility, and growth. In this study, we explored the ability of a mesenchymal ECM to support neurite outgrowth from neurons in the superior cervical ganglia (SCG). Length and morphology of neurites extended on a decellularized fibroblast ECM were compared to those on substrates coated with laminin, a major ECM protein in neural tissue, or fibronectin, the main component of a mesenchymal ECM. Average radial neurite extension was equivalent on laminin and on the decellularized ECM, but contrasted with the shorter, curved neurites observed on the fibronectin substrate. Differences between neurites on fibronectin and on other substrates were confirmed by fast Fourier transform analyses. To control the direction of neurite outgrowth, we developed an ECM with linearly aligned fibril organization by orienting the fibroblasts that deposit the matrix on a polymeric surface micropatterned with a striped chemical interface. Neurites projected from SCGs appeared to reorient in the direction of the pattern. These results highlight the ability of a mesenchymal ECM to enhance neurite extension and to control the directional outgrowth of neurites. This micropatterned decellularized ECM architecture has potential as a regenerative microenvironment for nerve repair.
In the mammary gland, the stromal extracellular matrix (ECM) undergoes dramatic changes during development and in tumorigenesis. For example, normal adult breast tissue is largely devoid of the ECM protein fibronectin (FN) whereas high FN levels have been detected in the stroma of breast tumors. FN is an established marker for epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which occurs during development and has been linked to cancer. During EMT, epithelial cell adhesion switches from cell-cell contacts to mainly cell-ECM interactions, raising the possibility that FN may have a role in promoting this transition. Using MCF-10A mammary epithelial cells, we show that exposure to exogenous FN induces an EMT response including upregulation of the EMT markers FN, Snail, N-cadherin, vimentin, the matrix metalloprotease MMP2, α-smooth muscle actin and phospho-Smad2, as well as acquisition of cell migratory behavior. FN-induced EMT depends on Src kinase and extracellular signal-regulated kinase/mitogen-activated protein (ERK/MAP) kinase signaling but not on the immediate early gene EGR-1. FN initiates EMT under serum-free conditions; this response is partially reversed by a transforming growth factor (TGF)β-neutralizing antibody, suggesting that FN enhances the effect of endogenous TGFβ. EMT marker expression is upregulated in cells on a fragment of FN containing the integrin-binding domain but not other domains. Differences in gene expression between FN and Matrigel are maintained with addition of a subthreshold level of TGFβ1. Together, these results show that cells interacting with FN are primed to respond to TGFβ. The ability of FN to induce EMT shows an active role for the stromal ECM in this process and supports the notion that the increased levels of FN observed in breast tumors facilitate tumorigenesis.
Unregulated activity of myofibroblasts, highly contractile cells that deposit abundant extracellular matrix (ECM), leads to fibrosis. To study the modulation of myofibroblast activity, we used human adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (ADSCs), which have much potential in regenerative medicine. We found that ADSCs treated with TGF-β developed a myofibroblastic phenotype with increases in α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA), a myofibroblast marker, and ECM proteins type I collagen and fibronectin. In contrast, treatment with bFGF had the opposite effect. bFGF-differentiated ADSCs showed marked down-regulation of α-SMA expression, collagen I, and fibronectin, and loss of focal adhesions and stress fibers. Functionally, bFGF-differentiated ADSCs were significantly more migratory, which correlated with up-regulation of tenascin-C, an anti-adhesive ECM protein, and vimentin, a pro-migratory cytoskeletal protein. On the other hand, TGF-β-differentiated ADSCs were significantly more contractile than bFGF-differentiated cells. Interestingly, cells completely reversed their morphologies, marker expression, signaling pathways, and contractility versus migratory profiles when switched from culture with one growth factor to the other, demonstrating that the myofibroblast differentiation process is not terminal. Cell differentiation was associated with activation of Smad2 downstream of TGF-β and of ERK/MAP kinase downstream of bFGF. Reversibility of the TGF-β-induced myofibroblastic phenotype depends, in part, on bFGF-induced ERK/MAP kinase signaling. These findings show that ADSC differentiation into myofibroblasts and re-differentiation into fibroblast-like cells can be manipulated with growth factors, which may have implications in the development of novel therapeutic strategies to reduce the risk of fibrosis.
The filtration unit of the kidney is the glomerulus, a capillary network supported by mesangial cells and extracellular matrix (ECM). Glomerular function is compromised in diabetic nephropathy (DN) by uncontrolled buildup of ECM, especially type IV collagen, which progressively occludes the capillaries. Increased levels of the ECM protein fibronectin (FN) are also present; however, its role in DN is unknown. Mesangial cells cultured under high glucose conditions provide a model system for studying the effect of elevated glucose on deposition of FN and collagen IV. Imaging of mesangial cell cultures and analysis of detergent-insoluble matrix show that, under high glucose conditions, mesangial cells assembled significantly more FN matrix, independent of FN protein levels. High glucose conditions induced protein kinase C-dependent β1 integrin activation, and FN assembly in normal glucose was increased by stimulation of integrin activity with Mn(2+). Collagen IV incorporation into the matrix was also increased under high glucose conditions and colocalized with FN fibrils. An inhibitor of FN matrix assembly prevented collagen IV deposition, demonstrating dependence of collagen IV on FN matrix. We conclude that high glucose induces FN assembly, which contributes to collagen IV accumulation. Enhanced assembly of FN might facilitate dysregulated ECM accumulation in DN.
Mesenchymal cell condensation is the initiating event in endochondral bone formation. Cell condensation is followed by differentiation into chondrocytes, which is accompanied by induction of chondrogenic gene expression. Gene mutations involved in chondrogenesis cause chondrodysplasias and other skeletal defects. Using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in an in vitro chondrogenesis assay, we found that knockdown of the diastrophic dysplasia (DTD) sulfate transporter (DTDST, also known as SLC26A2), which is required for normal cartilage development, blocked cell condensation and caused a significant reduction in fibronectin matrix. Knockdown of fibronectin with small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) also blocked condensation. Fibrillar fibronectin matrix was detected prior to cell condensation, and its levels increased during and after condensation. Inhibition of fibronectin matrix assembly by use of the functional upstream domain (FUD) of adhesin F1 from Streptococcus pyogenes prevented cell condensation by MSCs and also by the chondrogenic cell line ATDC5. Our data show that cell condensation and induction of chondrogenesis depend on fibronectin matrix assembly and DTDST, and indicate that this transporter is required earlier in chondrogenesis than previously appreciated. They also raise the possibility that certain of the skeletal defects in DTD patients might derive from the link between DTDST, fibronectin matrix and condensation.
BACKGROUND: The mechanisms that govern directional changes in cell migration are poorly understood. The migratory paths of two distal tip cells (DTC) determine the U-shape of the C. elegans hermaphroditic gonad. The morphogenesis of this organ provides a model system to identify genes necessary for the DTCs to execute two stereotyped turns.
RESULTS: Using candidate genes for RNAi knockdown in a DTC-specific strain, we identified two transcriptional regulators required for DTC turning: cbp-1, the CBP/p300 transcriptional coactivator homologue, and let-607, a CREBH transcription factor homologue. Further screening of potential target genes uncovered a network of integrin adhesion-related genes that have roles in turning and are dependent on cbp-1 and let-607 for expression. These genes include src-1/Src kinase, tln-1/talin, pat-2/α integrin and nmy-2, a nonmuscle myosin heavy chain.
CONCLUSIONS: Transcriptional regulation by means of cbp-1 and let-607 is crucial for determining directional changes during DTC migration. These regulators coordinate a gene network that is necessary for integrin-mediated adhesion. Overall, these results suggest that directional changes in cell migration rely on the precise gene regulation of adhesion.
Cells sense and respond to the mechanical properties of their microenvironment. We investigated whether these properties affect the ability of cells to assemble a fibrillar fibronectin (FN) matrix. Analysis of matrix assembled by cells grown on FN-coated polyacrylamide gels of varying stiffnesses showed that rigid substrates stimulate FN matrix assembly and activation of focal adhesion kinase (FAK) compared with the level of assembly and FAK signaling on softer substrates. Stimulating integrins with Mn(2+) treatment increased FN assembly on softer gels, suggesting that integrin binding is deficient on soft substrates. Guanidine hydrochloride-induced extension of the substrate-bound FN rescued assembly on soft substrates to a degree similar to that of Mn(2+) treatment and increased activation of FAK along with the initiation of assembly at FN matrix assembly sites. In contrast, increasing actin-mediated cell contractility did not rescue FN matrix assembly on soft substrates. Thus, rigidity-dependent FN matrix assembly is determined by extracellular events, namely the engagement of FN by cells and the induction of FN conformational changes. Extensibility of FN in response to substrate stiffness may serve as a mechanosensing mechanism whereby cells use pericellular FN to probe the stiffness of their environment.
Templating of cell spreading and proliferation is described that yields confluent layers of cells aligned across an entire two-dimensional surface. The template is a reactive, two-component interface that is synthesized in three steps in nanometer thick, micron-scaled patterns on silicon and on several biomaterial polymers. In this method, a volatile zirconium alkoxide complex is first deposited at reduced pressure onto a surface pattern that is prepared by photolithography; the substrate is then heated to thermolyze the organic ligands to form surface-bound zirconium oxide patterns. The thickness of this oxide layer ranges from 10 to 70 nanometers, which is controlled by alkoxide complex deposition time. The oxide layer is treated with 1,4-butanediphosphonic acid to give a monolayer pattern whose composition and spatial conformity to the photolithographic mask are determined spectroscopically. NIH 3T3 fibroblasts and human bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells attach and spread in alignment with the pattern without constraint by physical means or by arrays of cytophilic and cytophobic molecules. Cell alignment with the pattern is maintained as cells grow to form a confluent monolayer across the entire substrate surface.
Pluripotent cells are attached to the extracellular matrix (ECM) as they make cell fate decisions within the stem cell niche. Here we show that the ubiquitous ECM protein fibronectin is required for self-renewal decisions by cultured mouse embryonic stem (mES) cells. Undifferentiated mES cells produce fibronectin and assemble a fibrillar matrix. Increasing the level of substrate fibronectin increased cell spreading and integrin receptor signaling through focal adhesion kinase, while concomitantly inducing the loss of Nanog and Oct4 self-renewal markers. Conversely, reducing fibronectin production by mES cells growing on a feeder-free gelatin substrate caused loss of cell adhesion, decreased integrin signaling, and decreased expression of self-renewal markers. These effects were reversed by providing the cells with exogenous fibronectin, thereby restoring adhesion to the gelatin substrate. Interestingly, mES cells do not adhere directly to the gelatin substrate, but rather adhere indirectly through gelatin-bound fibronectin, which facilitates self-renewal via its effects on cell adhesion. These results provide new insights into the mechanism of regulation of self-renewal by growth on a gelatin-coated surface. The effects of increasing or decreasing fibronectin levels show that self-renewal depends on an intermediate level of cell-fibronectin interactions. By providing cell adhesive signals that can act with other self-renewal factors to maintain mES cell pluripotency, fibronectin is therefore a necessary component of the self-renewal signaling pathway in culture.
The extracellular matrix (ECM) is an intricate network of proteins that surrounds cells and has a central role in establishing an environment that is conducive to tissue-specific cell functions. In the case of stem cells, this environment is the stem cell niche, where ECM signals participate in cell fate decisions. In this Commentary, we describe how changes in ECM composition and mechanical properties can affect cell shape and stem cell differentiation. Using chondrogenic differentiation as a model, we examine the changes in the ECM that occur before and during mesenchymal stem cell differentiation. In particular, we focus on the main ECM protein fibronectin, its temporal expression pattern during chondrogenic differentiation, its potential effects on functions of differentiating chondrocytes, and how its interactions with other ECM components might affect cartilage development. Finally, we discuss data that support the possibility that the fibronectin matrix has an instructive role in directing cells through the condensation, proliferation and/or differentiation stages of cartilage formation.
Cell migration and morphogenesis are key events in tissue development and organogenesis. In Caenorhabditis elegans, the migratory path of the distal tip cells determines the morphology of the hermaphroditic gonad. The distal tip cells undergo a series of migratory phases interspersed with turns to form the gonad. A wide variety of genes have been identified as crucial to this process, from genes that encode components and modifiers of the extracellular matrix to signaling proteins and transcriptional regulators. The connections between extracellular and transmembrane protein functions and intracellular pathways are essential for distal tip cell migration, and the integration of this information governs gonad morphogenesis and determines gonad size and shape.
In Caenorhabditis elegans gonad morphogenesis, the final U-shapes of the two hermaphrodite gonad arms are determined by migration of the distal tip cells (DTCs). These somatic cells migrate in opposite directions on the ventral basement membrane until specific extracellular cues induce turning from ventral to dorsal and then centripetally toward the midbody region on the dorsal basement membrane. To dissect the mechanism of DTC turning, we examined the role of a novel gene, F40F11.2/mig-38, whose depletion by RNAi results in failure of DTC turning so that DTCs continue their migration away from the midbody region. mig-38 is expressed in the gonad primordium, and expression continues throughout DTC migration where it acts cell-autonomously to control DTC turning. RNAi depletion of both mig-38 and ina-1, which encodes an integrin adhesion receptor, enhanced the loss of turning phenotype indicating a genetic interaction between these genes. Furthermore, the integrin-associated protein MIG-15/Nck-interacting kinase (NIK) works with MIG-38 to direct DTC turning as shown by mig-38 RNAi with the mig-15(rh80) hypomorph. These results indicate that MIG-38 enhances the role of MIG-15 in integrin-dependent DTC turning. Knockdown of talin, a protein that is important for integrin activation, causes the DTCs to stop migration prematurely. When both talin and MIG-38 were depleted by RNAi treatment, the premature stop phenotype was suppressed. This suppression effect was reversed upon additional depletion of MIG-15 or its binding partner NCK-1. These results suggest that both talin and the MIG-15/NCK-1 complex promote DTC motility and that MIG-38 may act as a negative regulator of the complex. We propose a model to explain the dual role of MIG-38 in motility and turning.