Introduction: Scaffolds often fail to mimic essential functions of the physiologic extracellular matrix (ECM) that regulates cell-cell communication in tissue microenvironments. The development of scaffold-free microtissues containing stem cell-derived ECM may serve as a successful alternative to the use of artificial scaffolds. The current study aimed to fabricate 3-dimensional microtissue spheroids of dental pulp cells (DPCs) prevascularized by human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) and to characterize these scaffold-free spheroids for the in vitro formation of pulplike tissue constructs. Methods: Three-dimensional microtissue spheroids of DPC alone and DPC-HUVEC co-cultures were fabricated using agarose micro-molds. Cellular organization within the spheroids and cell viability (live/dead assay) were assessed at days 1, 7, and 14. Microtissue spheroids were allowed to self-assemble into macrotissues, induced for odontogenic differentiation (21 days), and examined for expression levels of osteo/odontogenic markers: alkaline phosphatase, bone sialoprotein and RUNX2 (Real-time PCR), mineralization (von-Kossa), and prevascularisation (immunohistochemistry for CD31). Results: The DPC microtissue microenvironment supported HUVEC survival and capillary network formation in the absence of a scaffolding material and external angiogenic stimulation. Immunohistochemical staining for CD31 showed the capillary network formed by HUVECs did sustain - for a prolonged period - even after the microtissues transformed into a macrotissue. Induced, prevascularized macrotissues showed enhanced differentiation capacity compared with DPC alone macrotissues, as shown by higher osteo/odontogenic gene expression levels and mineralization. Conclusions: These findings provide insight into the complex intercellular cross talk occurring between DPCs and HUVECs in the context of angiogenesis and pulp regeneration and highlight the significance of developing a favorable 3-dimensional microenvironment that can, in turn, contribute toward successful pulp regeneration strategies.
- tissue engineering
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