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Creators/Authors contains: "Chen, Christopher S."

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  1. Abstract

    Although tissue culture plastic has been widely employed for cell culture, the rigidity of plastic is not physiologic. Softer hydrogels used to culture cells have not been widely adopted in part because coupling chemistries are required to covalently capture extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins and support cell adhesion. To create an in vitro system with tunable stiffnesses that readily adsorbs ECM proteins for cell culture, a novel hydrophobic hydrogel system is presented via chemically converting hydroxyl residues on the dextran backbone to methacrylate groups, thereby transforming non‐protein adhesive, hydrophilic dextran to highly protein adsorbent substrates. Increasing methacrylate functionality increases the hydrophobicity in the resulting hydrogels and enhances ECM protein adsorption without additional chemical reactions. These hydrophobic hydrogels permit facile and tunable modulation of substrate stiffness independent of hydrophobicity or ECM coatings. Using this approach, it is shown that substrate stiffness and ECM adsorption work together to affect cell morphology and proliferation, but the strengths of these effects vary in different cell types. Furthermore, it is revealed that stiffness‐mediated differentiation of dermal fibroblasts into myofibroblasts is modulated by the substrate ECM. The material system demonstrates remarkable simplicity and flexibility to tune ECM coatings and substrate stiffness and study their effects on cell function.

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  2. Rationale: Dominant heterozygous variants in filamin C ( FLNC ) cause diverse cardiomyopathies, although the underlying molecular mechanisms remain poorly understood. Objective: We aimed to define the molecular mechanisms by which FLNC variants altered human cardiomyocyte gene and protein expression, sarcomere structure, and contractile performance. Methods and Results: Using CRISPR/Cas9, we introduced FLNC variants into human induced pluripotent stem cell–derived cardiomyocytes (hiPSC-CMs). We compared isogenic hiPSC-CMs with normal (wild-type), ablated expression ( FLNC −/− ), or haploinsufficiency ( FLNC +/− ) that causes dilated cardiomyopathy. We also studied a heterozygous in-frame deletion ( FLNC +/Δ7aa ) which did not affect FLNC expression but caused aggregate formation, similar to FLNC variants associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. FLNC −/− hiPSC-CMs demonstrated profound sarcomere misassembly and reduced contractility. Although sarcomere formation and function were unaffected in FLNC +/ − and FLNC +/Δ7aa hiPSC-CMs, these heterozygous variants caused increases in lysosome content, enhancement of autophagic flux, and accumulation of FLNC-binding partners and Z-disc proteins. Conclusions: FLNC expression is required for sarcomere organization and physiological function. Variants that produce misfolded FLNC proteins cause the accumulation of FLNC and FLNC-binding partners which leads to increased lysosome expression and activation of autophagic pathways. Surprisingly, similar pathways were activated in FLNC haploinsufficient hiPSC-CMs, likely initiated by the loss of stoichiometric FLNC protein interactions and impaired turnover of proteins at the Z-disc. These results indicate that both FLNC haploinsufficient variants and variants that produce misfolded FLNC protein cause disease by similar proteotoxic mechanisms and indicate the therapeutic potential for augmenting protein degradative pathways to treat a wide range of FLNC -related cardiomyopathies. 
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  3. We have developed a microfluidic platform for engineering cardiac microtissues in highly-controlled microenvironments. The platform is fabricated using direct laser writing (DLW) lithography and soft lithography, and contains four separate devices. Each individual device houses a cardiac microtissue and is equipped with an integrated strain actuator and a force sensor. Application of external pressure waves to the platform results in controllable time-dependent forces on the microtissues. Conversely, oscillatory forces generated by the microtissues are transduced into measurable electrical outputs. We demonstrate the capabilities of this platform by studying the response of cardiac microtissues derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) under prescribed mechanical loading and pacing. This platform will be used for fundamental studies and drug screening on cardiac microtissues. 
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  4. The inherent constraints on resolution, speed and field of view have hindered the development of high-speed, three-dimensional microscopy techniques over large scales. Here, we present a multiplane line-scan imaging strategy, which uses a series of axially distributed reflecting slits to probe different depths within a sample volume. Our technique enables the simultaneous imaging of an optically sectioned image stack with a single camera at frame rates of hundreds of hertz, without the need for axial scanning. We demonstrate the applicability of our system to monitor fast dynamics in biological samples by performing calcium imaging of neuronal activity in mouse brains and voltage imaging of cardiomyocytes in cardiac samples.

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  6. Abstract

    How adhesive forces are transduced and integrated into biochemical signals at focal adhesions (FAs) is poorly understood. Using cells adhering to deformable micropillar arrays, we demonstrate that traction force and FAK localization as well as traction force and Y397-FAK phosphorylation are linearly coupled at individual FAs on stiff, but not soft, substrates. Similarly, FAK phosphorylation increases linearly with external forces applied to FAs using magnetic beads. This mechanosignaling coupling requires actomyosin contractility, talin-FAK binding, and full-length vinculin that binds talin and actin. Using an in vitro 3D biomimetic wound healing model, we show that force-FAK signaling coupling coordinates cell migration and tissue-scale forces to promote microtissue repair. A simple kinetic binding model of talin-FAK interactions under force can recapitulate the experimental observations. This study provides insights on how talin and vinculin convert forces into FAK signaling events regulating cell migration and tissue repair.

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  7. Abstract

    The structural and functional maturation of human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes (hiPSC-CMs) is essential for pharmaceutical testing, disease modeling, and ultimately therapeutic use. Multicellular 3D-tissue platforms have improved the functional maturation of hiPSC-CMs, but probing cardiac contractile properties in a 3D environment remains challenging, especially at depth and in live tissues. Using small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) imaging, we show that hiPSC-CMs matured and examined in a 3D environment exhibit a periodic spatial arrangement of the myofilament lattice, which has not been previously detected in hiPSC-CMs. The contractile force is found to correlate with both the scattering intensity (R2 = 0.44) and lattice spacing (R2 = 0.46). The scattering intensity also correlates with lattice spacing (R2 = 0.81), suggestive of lower noise in our structural measurement than in the functional measurement. Notably, we observed decreased myofilament ordering in tissues with a myofilament mutation known to lead to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Our results highlight the progress of human cardiac tissue engineering and enable unprecedented study of structural maturation in hiPSC-CMs.

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