, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 95-109
Date: 11 Mar 2012

Microdomain heterogeneity in 3D affects the mechanics of neonatal cardiac myocyte contraction

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Cardiac muscle cells are known to adapt to their physical surroundings, optimizing intracellular organization and contractile function for a given culture environment. A previously developed in vitro model system has shown that the inclusion of discrete microscale domains (or microrods) in three dimensions (3D) can alter long-term growth responses of neonatal ventricular myocytes. The aim of this work was to understand how cellular contact with such a domain affects various mechanical changes involved in cardiac muscle cell remodeling. Myocytes were maintained in 3D gels over 5 days in the presence or absence of 100−μm-long microrods, and the effect of this local heterogeneity on cell behavior was analyzed via several imaging techniques. Microrod abutment resulted in approximately twofold increases in the maximum displacement of spontaneously beating myocytes, as based on confocal microscopy scans of the gel xy-plane or the myocyte long axis. In addition, microrods caused significant increases in the proportion of aligned myofibrils (≤20° deviation from long axis) in fixed myocytes. Microrod-related differences in axial contraction could be abrogated by long-term interruption of certain signals of the RhoA-/Rho-associated kinase (ROCK) or protein kinase C (PKC) pathway. Furthermore, microrod-induced increases in myocyte size and protein content were prevented by ROCK inhibition. In all, the data suggest that microdomain heterogeneity in 3D appears to promote the development of axially aligned contractile machinery in muscle cells, an observation that may have relevance to a number of cardiac tissue engineering interventions.