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  1. Clinically serious congenital heart valve defects arise from improper growth and remodeling of endocardial cushions into leaflets. Genetic mutations have been extensively studied but explain less than 20% of cases. Mechanical forces generated by beating hearts drive valve development, but how these forces collectively determine valve growth and remodeling remains incompletely understood. Here, we decouple the influence of those forces on valve size and shape, and study the role of YAP pathway in determining the size and shape. The low oscillatory shear stress promotes YAP nuclear translocation in valvular endothelial cells (VEC), while the high unidirectional shear stress restricts YAP in cytoplasm. The hydrostatic compressive stress activated YAP in valvular interstitial cells (VIC), whereas the tensile stress deactivated YAP. YAP activation by small molecules promoted VIC proliferation and increased valve size. Whereas YAP inhibition enhanced the expression of cell-cell adhesions in VEC and affected valve shape. Finally, left atrial ligation was performed in chick embryonic hearts to manipulate the shear and hydrostatic stress in vivo. The restricted flow in the left ventricle induced a globular and hypoplastic left atrioventricular (AV) valves with an inhibited YAP expression. By contrast, the right AV valves with sustained YAP expression grew and elongated normally. This study establishes a simple yet elegant mechanobiological system by which transduction of local stresses regulates valve growth and remodeling. This system guides leaflets to grow into proper sizes and shapes with the ventricular development, without the need of a genetically prescribed timing mechanism. 
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  2. Load-bearing soft tissues normally show J-shaped stress–strain behaviors with high compliance at low strains yet high strength at high strains. They have high water content but are still tough and durable. By contrast, naturally derived hydrogels are weak and brittle. Although hydrogels prepared from synthetic polymers can be strong and tough, they do not have the desired bioactivity for emerging biomedical applications. Here, we present a thermomechanical approach to replicate the combinational properties of soft tissues in protein-based photocrosslinkable hydrogels. As a demonstration, we create a gelatin methacryloyl fiber hydrogel with soft tissue-like mechanical properties, such as low Young’s modulus (0.1 to 0.3 MPa), high strength (1.1 ± 0.2 MPa), high toughness (9,100 ± 2,200 J/m 3 ), and high fatigue resistance (2,300 ± 500 J/m 2 ). This hydrogel also resembles the biochemical and architectural properties of native extracellular matrix, which enables a fast formation of 3D interconnected cell meshwork inside hydrogels. The fiber architecture also regulates cellular mechanoresponse and supports cell remodeling inside hydrogels. The integration of tissue-like mechanical properties and bioactivity is highly desirable for the next-generation biomaterials and could advance emerging fields such as tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. 
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  3. Abstract

    In vitro differentiation of human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) into functional islets holds immense potential to create an unlimited source of islets for diabetes research and treatment. A continuous challenge in this field is to generate glucose-responsive mature islets. We herein report a previously undiscovered angiopoietin signal for in vitro islet development. We revealed, for the first time, that angiopoietins, including angiopoietin-1 (Ang1) and angiopoietin-2 (Ang2) permit the generation of islets from iPSCs with elevated glucose responsiveness, a hallmark of mature islets. Angiopoietin-stimulated islets exhibited glucose synchronized calcium ion influx in repetitive glucose challenges. Moreover, Ang2 augmented the expression of all islet hormones, including insulin, glucagon, somatostatin, and pancreatic polypeptide; and β cell transcription factors, including NKX6.1, MAFA, UCN3, and PDX1. Furthermore, we showed that the Ang2 stimulated islets were able to regulate insulin exocytosis through actin-filament polymerization and depolymerization upon glucose challenge, presumably through the CDC42-RAC1-gelsolin mediated insulin secretion signaling pathway. We also discovered the formation of endothelium within the islets under Ang2 stimulation. These results strongly suggest that angiopoietin acts as a signaling molecule to endorse in vitro islet development from iPSCs.

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  4. Abstract

    Load‐bearing soft tissues are soft but strong, strong yet tough. These properties can only be replicated in synthetic hydrogels, which do not have the biocomplexity required by many biomedical applications. By contrast, natural hydrogels, although retaining the native complexity, are weak and fragile. Here a thermomechanical casting method is presented to achieve the mechanical capabilities of synthetic materials in biopolymer hydrogels. The thermomechanical cast and chemically crosslinked biopolymer chains form a short‐range disordered but long‐range ordered structure in water. Upon stretch, the disordered structure transforms to a hierarchically ordered structure. This disorder‐order transformation resembles the synergy of the disordered elastin and ordered collagen in load‐bearing soft tissues. As entropy drives a reverse order‐disorder transformation, the hydrogels can resist repeated cycles of loads without deterioration in mechanical properties. Gelatin hydrogels produced by this method combine tissue‐like tunable mechanical properties that outperform the gelatin prepared by synthetic approaches, and in vivo biocomplexity beyond current natural systems. Unlike polymer engineering approaches, which rely on specific crosslinks provided by special polymers, this strategy utilizes the entropy of swollen chains and is generalizable to many other biopolymers. It could thus significantly accelerate translational success of biomaterials.

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