Tissue engineering is a promising approach to implement endothelial cells as a cellular delivery therapy for vascular disease. We and others previously demonstrated that endothelial cells embedded in three-dimensional collagen-based matrices retain their full biosecretory spectrum, enabling them to serve as powerful regulators of vascular diseases. Fascinatingly, matrix embedding of endothelial cells not only allows for their implantation but also seems to provide protection from allo- and xenogeneic-triggered host immune responses. This is not an effect of simple physical shielding but a more fundamental influence of cell–matrix interconnectivity on the cellular immune phenotype. Reduced cytokine-induced levels of costimulatory and adhesion molecules associated with significantly lower expression levels of major histocompatibility class II expression on matrix-embedded human aortic endothelial cells when compared to the same cells cultured on two-dimensional polystyrene coated-tissue culture plates. Strikingly, the entire interferon-γ-dependent signaling cascade resulting in MHC class II molecule expression is markedly suppressed in endothelial cells grown to confluence within three-dimensional scaffolds. These findings might be of pivotal importance for designing endothelial cell-based therapies in general and might enhance our understanding of the underlying pathophysiology in a broad range of cardiovascular diseases (e.g., atherosclerosis, vasculitis, chronic allograft vasculopathy).
Keywords: Endothelial cell, Matrix, MHC class II molecule