Development and characterization of in vitro microvessel network and quantitative measurements of endothelial [Ca2+]i and nitric oxide production

Sulei Xu, Xiang Li, Yuxin Liu, Pingnian He

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7 Scopus citations


Endothelial cells (ECs) lining the blood vessel walls in vivo are constantly exposed to flow, but cultured ECs are often grown under static conditions and exhibit a pro-inflammatory phenotype. Although the development of microfluidic devices has been embraced by engineers over two decades, their biological applications remain limited. A more physiologically relevant in vitro microvessel model validated by biological applications is important to advance the field and bridge the gaps between in vivo and in vitro studies. Here, we present detailed procedures for the development of cultured microvessel network using a microfluidic device with a long-term perfusion capability. We also demonstrate its applications for quantitative measurements of agonist-induced changes in EC [Ca2+]i and nitric oxide (NO) production in real time using confocal and conventional fluorescence microscopy. The formed microvessel network with continuous perfusion showed well-developed junctions between ECs. VE-cadherin distribution was closer to that observed in intact microvessels than statically cultured EC monolayers. ATP-induced transient increases in EC [Ca2+]i and NO production were quantitatively measured at individual cell levels, which validated the functionality of the cultured microvessels. This microfluidic device allows ECs to grow under a well-controlled, physiologically relevant flow, which makes the cell culture environment closer to in vivo than that in the conventional, static 2D cultures. The microchannel network design is highly versatile, and the fabrication process is simple and repeatable. The device can be easily integrated to the confocal or conventional microscopic system enabling high resolution imaging. Most importantly, because the cultured microvessel network can be formed by primary human ECs, this approach will serve as a useful tool to investigate how pathologically altered blood components from patient samples affect human ECs and provide insight into clinical issues. It also can be developed as a platform for drug screening.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere54014
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number111
StatePublished - May 19 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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