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Epithelial cell organoids have increased opportunities to probe questions on tissue development and disease in vitro and for therapeutic cell transplantation. Despite their potential, current protocols to grow these organoids almost exclusively depend on culture within 3D Matrigel, which limits defined culture conditions, introduces animal components, and results in heterogenous organoids (i.e., shape, size, composition). Here, a method is described that relies on hyaluronic acid hydrogels for the generation and expansion of lung alveolar organoids (alveolospheres). Using synthetic hydrogels with defined chemical and physical properties, human‐induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)‐derived alveolar type 2 cells (iAT2s) self‐assemble into alveolospheres and propagate in Matrigel‐free conditions. By engineering predefined microcavities within these hydrogels, the heterogeneity of alveolosphere size and structure is reduced when compared to 3D culture, while maintaining the alveolar type 2 cell fate of human iAT2‐derived progenitor cells. This hydrogel system is a facile and accessible system for the culture of iPSC‐derived lung progenitors and the method can be expanded to the culture of primary mouse tissue derived AT2 and other epithelial progenitor and stem cell aggregates.
Hydrogels are engineered with biochemical and biophysical signals to recreate aspects of the native microenvironment and to control cellular functions such as differentiation and matrix deposition. This deposited matrix accumulates within the pericellular space and likely affects the interactions between encapsulated cells and the engineered hydrogel; however, there has been little work to study the spatiotemporal evolution of matrix at this interface. To address this, metabolic labeling is employed to visualize the temporal and spatial positioning of nascent proteins and proteoglycans deposited by chondrocytes. Within covalently crosslinked hyaluronic acid hydrogels, chondrocytes deposit nascent proteins and proteoglycans in the pericellular space within 1 d after encapsulation. The accumulation of this matrix, as measured by an increase in matrix thickness during culture, depends on the initial hydrogel crosslink density with decreased thicknesses for more crosslinked hydrogels. Encapsulated fluorescent beads are used to monitor the hydrogel location and indicate that the emerging nascent matrix physically displaces the hydrogel from the cell membrane with extended culture. These findings suggest that secreted matrix increasingly masks the presentation of engineered hydrogel cues and may have implications for the design of hydrogels in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.