A 3D-Printed, Modular, and Parallelized Microfluidic System with Customizable ECM Integration to Investigate the Roles of Basement Membrane Topography on Endothelial Cells
Because dysfunctions of endothelial cells are involved in many pathologies, in vitro endothelial cell models for pathophysiological and pharmaceutical studies have been a valuable research tool. Although numerous microfluidic-based endothelial models have been reported, they had the cells cultured on a flat surface without considering the possible 3D structure of the native ECM. Endothelial cells rest on the basement membrane in vivo, which contains an aligned microfibrous topography. To better understand and model the cells, it is necessary to know if and how the fibrous topography can affect endothelial functions. With conventional fully integrated microfluidic apparatus, it is difficult to include additional topographies in a microchannel. Therefore, we developed a modular microfluidic system by 3D-printing and electrospinning, which enabled easy integration and switching of desired ECM topographies. Also, with standardized designs, the system allowed for high flow rates up to 4000 µL/min, which covered the full shear stress range for endothelial studies. We found that the aligned fibrous topography on the ECM altered arginine metabolism in endothelial cells, and thus increased nitric oxide production. To the best of our knowledge, this is the most versatile endothelial model that has been reported, and the new knowledge generated thereby lays a groundwork for future endothelial research and modeling.