The development of the next generation of biomaterials for restoration of tissues and organs (i.e., tissue engineering) requires a better understanding of the extracellular matrix (ECM) and its interaction with cells. Extracellular matrix is a macromolecular assembly of natural biopolymers including collagens, glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), proteoglycans (PGs), and glycoproteins. Interestingly, several ECM components have the ability to form three‐dimensional (3D), supramolecular matrices (scaffolds) in vitro by a process of self‐directed polymerization, “self‐assembly”. It has been shown previously that 3D matrices with distinct architectural and biological properties can be formed from either purified type I collagen or a complex mixture of interstitial ECM components derived from intestinal submucosa. Unfortunately, many of the imaging and analysis techniques available to study these matrices either are unable to provide insight into 3D preparations or demand efforts that are often prohibitory to observations of living, dynamic systems. This is the first report on the use of reflection imaging at rapid time intervals combined with laser‐scanning confocal microscopy for analysis of structural properties and kinetics of collagen and ECM assembly in 3D. We compared time‐lapse confocal reflection microscopy (TL‐CRM) with a well‐established spectrophotometric method for determining the self‐assembly properties of both purified type I collagen and soluble interstitial ECM. While both TL‐CRM and spectrophotometric techniques provided insight into the kinetics of the polymerization process, only TL‐CRM allowed qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the structural parameters (e.g., fibril diameter) and 3D organization (e.g., fibril density) of component fibrils over time. Matrices formed from the complex mixture of soluble interstitial ECM components showed an increased rate of assembly, decreased opacity, decreased fibril diameter, and increased fibril density compared to that of purified type I collagen. These results suggested that the PG/GAG components of soluble interstitial ECM were affecting the polymerization of the component collagens. Therefore, the effects of purified and complex mixtures of PG/GAG components on the assembly properties of type I collagen and interstitial ECM were evaluated. The data confirmed that the presence of PG/GAG components altered the kinetics and the 3D fibril morphology of assembled matrices. In summary, TL‐CRM was demonstrated to be a new and useful technique for analysis of the 3D assembly properties of collagen and other natural biopolymers which requires no specimen fixation and/or staining.© 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Biopoly 54: 222–234, 2000
Biopolymers – Wiley
Published: Sep 1, 2000
Keywords: extracellular matrix; collagen gel; self‐assembly; confocal microscopy; time lapse; reflection; imaging; three‐dimensional; fibrillogenesis; submucosa
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