Phase transformations in a model mesenchymal tissue
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Connective tissues, the most abundant tissue type of the mature mammalian body, consist of cells suspended in complex microenvironments known as extracellular matrices (ECMs). In the immature connective tissues (mesenchymes) encountered in developmental biology and tissue engineering applications, the ECMs contain varying amounts of randomly arranged fibers, and the physical state of the ECM changes as the fibers secreted by the cells undergo fibril and fiber assembly and organize into networks. In vitro composites consisting of assembling solutions of type I collagen, containing suspended polystyrene latex beads (~6 µm in diameter) with collagen-binding surface properties, provide a simplified model for certain physical aspects of developing mesenchymes. In particular, assembly-dependent topological (i.e., connectivity) transitions within the ECM could change a tissue from one in which cell-sized particles (e.g., latex beads or cells) are mechanically unlinked to one in which the particles are part of a mechanical continuum. Any particle-induced alterations in fiber organization would imply that cells could similarly establish physically distinct microdomains within tissues. Here we show that the presence of beads above a critical number density accelerates the sol-gel transition that takes place during the assembly of collagen into a globally interconnected network of fibers. The presence of this suprathreshold number of beads also dramatically changes the viscoelastic properties of the collagen matrix, but only when the initial concentration of soluble collagen is itself above a critical value. Our studies provide a starting point for the analysis of phase transformations of more complex biomaterials including developing and healing tissues as well as tissue substitutes containing living cells.
Stuart A Newman et al 2004 Phys. Biol. 1 100