Congenital vaginal anomalies and cloacal malformations may require extensive surgical reconstruction. Surgical challenges are often encountered because of the limited amounts of native tissue available. We investigated the feasibility of using vaginal epithelial and smooth muscle cells for the engineering of vaginal tissues in vivo. Vaginal epithelial and smooth muscle cells of female rabbits were grown, expanded in culture, and characterized immunocytochemically. Vaginal epithelial and smooth muscle cells were seeded on polyglycolic acid (PGA) scaffolds at 10 × 106 and 20 × 106 cells/cm3, respectively. The cell-seeded scaffolds were subcutaneously implanted into nude mice. The animals were killed 1, 4, and 6 weeks after implantation. Immunocytochemical and histochemical analyses were performed with pancytokeratins AE1/AE3 and with smooth muscle-specific α-actin antibodies to confirm the reconstituted tissue phenotype. Western blot analyses and electrical field stimulation studies were also performed to further characterize the tissue-engineered constructs. Vaginal epithelial cells were serially identified with anti-pancytokeratins AE1/AE3 at all culture stages. Smooth muscle cells in culture stained positively with α-smooth muscle actin antibodies. One week after implantation in vivo, the retrieved polymer scaffolds demonstrated multilayered tissue strips of both cell types, and penetrating native vasculature was also noted. Increased organization of the smooth muscle and epithelial tissue was evident by 4 weeks. There was no evidence of tissue formation in the controls. Immunocytochemical analyses using anti-pancytokeratins confirmed the presence of vaginal epithelial cells in each of the constructs. Anti-α-actin smooth muscle antibodies also confirmed the presence of multilayered smooth muscle fibers and tissue at each time point. Western blot analyses of the scaffolds confirmed the expression of cytokeratin and smooth muscle actin proteins when compared with controls. The contractile properties of the tissue-engineered vaginal constructs in response to electrical field stimulation were similar to those of normal vaginal tissue. Vaginal epithelial and smooth muscle cells can be easily cultured and expanded in vitro. Cell-seeded polymer scaffolds are able to form vascularized vaginal tissue in vivo that have phenotypic and functional properties similar to those of normal vaginal tissues. This is the first demonstration in tissue engineering wherein vaginal epithelial and smooth muscle cells are reconstituted in vivo into vaginal tissue. This technology may be pursued further experimentally in order to achieve the engineering of vaginal tissues for clinical applications.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology