Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Chemical & Biochemical Engineering

First Advisor

Kristi S. Anseth

Second Advisor

Vivek Balasubramaniam

Third Advisor

Stephanie Bryant

Fourth Advisor

Joel Kaar

Fifth Advisor

Jeffrey Stansbury

Abstract

The alveolar epithelium consists of two cell phenotypes, elongated alveolar type I cells (AT1) and rounded alveolar type II cells (ATII), and exists in a complex three-dimensional environment as a polarized cell layer attached to a thin basement membrane and enclosing a roughly spherical lumen. Closely surrounding the alveolar cysts are capillary endothelial cells as well as interstitial pulmonary fibroblasts. Many factors are thought to influence alveolar epithelial cell differentiation during lung development and wound repair, including physical and biochemical signals from the extracellular matrix (ECM), and paracrine signals from the surrounding mesenchyme. In particular, disrupted signaling between the alveolar epithelium and local fibroblasts has been implicated in the progression of several pulmonary diseases. However, given the complexity of alveolar tissue architecture and the multitude of signaling pathways involved, designing appropriate experimental platforms for this biological system has been difficult. In order to isolate key factors regulating cellular behavior, the researcher ideally should have control over biophysical properties of the ECM, as well as the ability to organize multiple cell types within the scaffold.

This thesis aimed to develop a 3D synthetic hydrogel platform to control alveolar epithelial cyst formation, which could then be used to explore how extracellular cues influence cell behavior in a tissue-relevant cellular arrangement. To accomplish this, a poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) hydrogel network containing enzymatically-degradable crosslinks and bioadhesive pendant peptides was employed as a base material for encapsulating primary alveolar epithelial cells. First, an array of microwells of various cross-sectional shapes was photopatterned into a PEG gel containing photo-labile crosslinks, and primary ATII cells were seeded into the wells to examine the role of geometric confinement on differentiation and multicellular arrangement. Aggregate formation in these microwells motivated us to develop a templating technique to create hollow cyst-like epithelial structures within PEG hydrogels. Photodegradable microspheres were used to form spherical epithelial layers, which were then encapsulated in a PEG hydrogel followed by template erosion with cytocompatible light. With these model alveoli, we investigated the interplay between the epithelium and mesenchyme by co-encapsulating healthy and diseased pulmonary fibroblasts with healthy and diseased epithelial cysts and measuring important cellular behaviors (i.e. proliferation, migration, and protein expression). This model of alveolar tissue represents a significant advance in culture platforms available to researchers interested in identifying the mechanisms involved in disease progression and for testing potential therapeutics in a controlled, tissue-appropriate setting.

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