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Extracellular matrix stiffness and composition regulate the myofibroblast differentiation of vaginal fibroblasts

: Ruiz-Zapata, A.M.; Heinz, A.; Kerkhof, M.H.; van de Westerlo-Van Rijt, C.; Schmelzer, C.E.H.; Stoop, R.; Kluivers, K.B.; Oosterwijk, E.

Volltext ()

International journal of molecular sciences 21 (2020), Nr.13, Art. 4762, 15 S.
ISSN: 1422-0067
ISSN: 1661-6596
Zeitschriftenaufsatz, Elektronische Publikation
Fraunhofer IMWS ()

Fibroblast to myofibroblast differentiation is a key feature of wound-healing in soft tissues, including the vagina. Vaginal fibroblasts maintain the integrity of the vaginal wall tissues, essential to keep pelvic organs in place and avoid pelvic organ prolapse (POP). The micro-environment of vaginal tissues in POP patients is stiffer and has different extracellular matrix (ECM) composition than healthy vaginal tissues. In this study, we employed a series of matrices with known stiffnesses, as well as vaginal ECMs, in combination with vaginal fibroblasts from POP and healthy tissues to investigate how matrix stiffness and composition regulate myofibroblast differentiation in vaginal fibroblasts. Stiffness was positively correlated to production of α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA). Vaginal ECMs induced myofibroblast differentiation as both α-SMA and collagen gene expressions were increased. This differentiation was more pronounced in cells seeded on POP-ECMs that were stiffer than those derived from healthy tissues and had higher collagen and elastin protein content. We showed that stiffness and ECM content regulate vaginal myofibroblast differentiation. We provide preliminary evidence that vaginal fibroblasts might recognize POP-ECMs as scar tissues that need to be remodeled. This is fundamentally important for tissue repair, and provides a rational basis for POP disease modelling and therapeutic innovations in vaginal reconstruction.