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Extracellular Heme Proteins Influence Bovine Myosatellite Cell Proliferation and the Color of Cell-Based Meat

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Skeletal muscle-tissue engineering can be applied to produce cell-based meat for human consumption, but growth parameters need to be optimized for efficient production and similarity to traditional meat. The addition of heme proteins to plant-based meat alternatives was recently shown to increase meat-like flavor and natural color. To evaluate whether heme proteins also have a positive effect on cell-based meat production, bovine muscle satellite cells (BSCs) were grown in the presence of hemoglobin (Hb) or myoglobin (Mb) for up to nine days in a fibrin hydrogel along 3D-printed anchor-point constructs to generate bioartificial muscles (BAMs). The influence of heme proteins on cell proliferation, tissue development, and tissue color was analyzed. We found that the proliferation and metabolic activity of BSCs was significantly increased when Mb was added, while Hb had no, or a slightly negative, effect. Hb and, in particular, Mb application led to a very similar color of BAMs compared to cooked beef, which was not noticeable in groups without added heme proteins. Taken together, these results indicate a potential benefit of adding Mb to cell culture media for increased proliferation and adding Mb or Hb for the coloration of cell-based meat.
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Article
Extracellular Heme Proteins Influence Bovine
Myosatellite Cell Proliferation and the Color of
Cell-Based Meat
Robin Simsa 1,2,3 , John Yuen 1, Andrew Stout 1, Natalie Rubio 1, Per Fogelstrand 3and
David L. Kaplan 1, *
1Department of Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, USA;
robin.simsa@verigraft.com (R.S.); John.Yuen_Jr@tufts.edu (J.Y.); Andrew.Stout@tufts.edu (A.S.);
Natalie.Rubio@tufts.edu (N.R.)
2VERIGRAFT AB, 41346 Gothenburg, Sweden
3
Wallenberg Laboratory, University of Gothenburg, 41345 Gothenburg, Sweden; Per.Fogelstrand@wlab.gu.se
*Correspondence: david.kaplan@tufts.edu; Tel.: +617-627-3251
Received: 10 October 2019; Accepted: 18 October 2019; Published: 21 October 2019


Abstract:
Skeletal muscle-tissue engineering can be applied to produce cell-based meat for human
consumption, but growth parameters need to be optimized for ecient production and similarity to
traditional meat. The addition of heme proteins to plant-based meat alternatives was recently shown
to increase meat-like flavor and natural color. To evaluate whether heme proteins also have a positive
eect on cell-based meat production, bovine muscle satellite cells (BSCs) were grown in the presence
of hemoglobin (Hb) or myoglobin (Mb) for up to nine days in a fibrin hydrogel along 3D-printed
anchor-point constructs to generate bioartificial muscles (BAMs). The influence of heme proteins on
cell proliferation, tissue development, and tissue color was analyzed. We found that the proliferation
and metabolic activity of BSCs was significantly increased when Mb was added, while Hb had no, or
a slightly negative, eect. Hb and, in particular, Mb application led to a very similar color of BAMs
compared to cooked beef, which was not noticeable in groups without added heme proteins. Taken
together, these results indicate a potential benefit of adding Mb to cell culture media for increased
proliferation and adding Mb or Hb for the coloration of cell-based meat.
Keywords:
cell-based meat; cultured meat; skeletal muscle tissue engineering; muscle constructs;
bioartificial muscle; heme proteins; hemoglobin; myoglobin; meat color; tissue color; bovine
myosatellite cells; cellular agriculture
1. Introduction
Muscle tissue engineering
in vitro
may provide new treatments for skeletal muscle diseases such
as muscular dystrophies or trauma. Another application of muscle tissue engineering is the generation
of meat, derived from livestock animal cells, for human consumption, here referred to as cell-based meat
(other common names include “cultured meat”, “
in vitro
meat”, or “cellular agriculture”). The rationale
for developing cell-based meat is the potential to decrease resource intensity and increase environmental
sustainability of meat production [
1
] compared to current industrial animal farming, which is associated
with issues of greenhouse gas emission, land usage [
2
], deforestation [
3
], biodiversity [
4
], antibiotic
resistance [
5
], and animal welfare. The ability to grow meat in defined bioreactor conditions also
potentially allows a decrease in the use of steroid hormones [
6
] and antibiotics [
7
], while increasing the
content of health-related proteins and vitamins by defined nutrient composition of cell culture media.
Currently, the generation of muscle tissue in large quantities is not cost-ecient, since knowledge about
Foods 2019,8, 521; doi:10.3390/foods8100521 www.mdpi.com/journal/foods
Foods 2019,8, 521 2 of 19
muscle tissue engineering was generated mainly related to medical applications. Therefore, more basic
research regarding optimization and production of muscle tissue for food products is necessary.
The main component of meat is skeletal muscle cells, which, therefore, is a logical starting cell
type for cell-based meat production. However, dierentiated skeletal muscle cells cannot be expanded
in vitro
, as they lose their ability to proliferate in normal conditions [
8
,
9
]. In contrast, myosatellite
cells, which are muscle progenitor cells, have a greater capacity to proliferate and dierentiate [
10
].
Myosatellite cells can be harvested from non-lethal biopsies and then grown in 3D to form bioartificial
muscle (BAM) constructs by growth in hydrogels, on synthetic or natural scaolds or on native
decellularized extracellular matrix [
11
13
]. Dierentiation of myosatellite cells into adult muscle tissue
can be initiated by changing the media conditions, topographical cues, electrical or mechanical stimuli,
or other modes [
14
]. Three-dimensional growth of skeletal muscle in hydrogels along agarose pillars
was the basis of the first demonstration of a cell-based meat prototype [
15
,
16
]. Growth of skeletal
muscle tissue requires the presence of functional proteins, which are commonly added with fetal bovine
serum or by the addition of specific growth factors (e.g., fibroblast growth factor (FGF) or vascular
endothelial growth factor (VEGF)) [
17
]. Other functional proteins which could have an important role
in cell-based meat development are heme proteins, such as myoglobin (Mb) or hemoglobin (Hb).
Heme proteins contain a prosthetic group with a bound iron atom and fulfill functions such
as oxygen binding and transport to mitochondria, oxidative phosphorylation, and intracellular
catalysis [
18
,
19
]. Hb is primarily found in red blood cells, while Mb is found in native skeletal and
cardiac muscle tissue [
20
]. The content and redox form of Mb is the main contributor to the color of
meat [
21
] and is associated with the typical bloody, metallic taste of meat [
22
]. These attributes are of
great interest for cell-based meat development, as both taste and color of meat are crucial for consumer
acceptance [
23
]. Skeletal muscle cells only produce limited amounts of Mb
in vitro
when proliferating,
and Mb content
in vitro
is lower compared to
in vivo
muscle tissue [
24
]. Therefore, increasing the
content of heme proteins during muscle tissue formation may lead to a more meat-like composition
and appearance. Heme proteins such as Hb are already widely used in meat products, as natural color
enhancers, binders, or fat replacers [
25
]. Also, the addition of heme proteins to food products can help
to reduce iron deficiency, which aects up to 20% of the world population [26].
Increasing heme protein expression in skeletal muscle cell culture may be achieved by adaption of
growth conditions, such as hypoxic incubation or addition of certain supplements, but raises issues in
terms of food regulatory aspects, production feasibility and/or cell viability. For example, muscle cells
are one of the few cell types that proliferate well in hypoxic conditions [
27
], limiting coculture systems.
Another option of increasing the heme protein content is the addition of extracellular heme proteins in
growth media directly during cell proliferation and dierentiation, which can have a positive eect on
cell metabolism [
19
,
28
,
29
]. Recently, the commercially available meat substitute “Impossible Burger”
has incorporated heme proteins originating from soy (leghemoglobin) into a soy-based alternative for
ground beef, which led to a more meat-like taste compared to a control group without added heme [
30
].
These results showed the potential of heme proteins to be used in meat alternatives to recreate natural
meat taste and flavor. However, the incorporation of heme proteins in cell culture for cell-based meat
production has not yet been investigated.
The aim of this study was to investigate the eects of direct additions of the heme proteins Hb and
Mb on skeletal muscle cell proliferation, dierentiation, coloration, biochemical activity, and viability.
Experiments were performed on primary isolated bovine satellite cells (BSCs). For tissue formation,
cells were cultured in a fibrin hydrogel and dierentiated along 3D printed anchor point constructs.
Color measurements and heme content were compared to commercially available ground beef.
Foods 2019,8, 521 3 of 19
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Bovine Satellite Cell Isolation and Cell Culture
Primary bovine satellite cells were isolated from the semitendinosus of a 60-day-old male
Charolaise x Simmental beef cow raised at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Briefly, a
small excision (~0.5 cm
3
) was taken according to methods approved by the Tufts University Institutional
Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC Protocol #G2018-36), placed in dulbecco’s modified eagle
medium (DMEM) +Glutamax (ThermoFisher, Pittsburg, PA, USA) with 1% antibiotic–antimycotic,
and transported to the lab on ice, where fat and connective tissue were removed before the remaining
muscle was minced into a thick paste. Minced tissue was divided into 50 mL tubes with 20 mL
DMEM Glutamax and centrifuged at 200
×
gfor 5 min. The media was aspirated, and the tissue
was resuspended in 10 mL DMEM +Glutamax with 0.2% collagenase II (Worthington Biochemical,
Lakewood, NJ, USA; 275 U/mg). This digestion solution was incubated for 45 min at 37
C, with
micropipette triturations performed every 15 min. Then, the solution was triturated using an 18-gauge
blunt-tipped needle until it passed through the needle easily, incubated at 37
C for another 15 min,
and again triturated several times with an 18-gauge needle. Next, 20 mL of growth media comprised
of DMEM +Glutamax supplemented with 20% FBS, 1 ng/mL human FGF-basic (100-18B, PeproTech,
Rocky Hill, NJ, USA), and 1% Primocin (Invivogen, San Diego, CA, USA) was added to both tubes
to halt digestion. Digests were filtered through 70
µ
m and 40
µ
m cell strainers, centrifuged at 200 g
for 5 min, and resuspended in growth media. Cells were then counted on a hemocytometer, plated
at a density of 100,000 cells/cm
2
onto uncoated T75 tissue-culture flasks, and incubated in a 37
C
with 5% CO
2
. After 24 h, the media was collected from flasks to separate slowly adherent satellite
cells from quickly adherent fibroblasts and transferred directly to new tissue-culture flasks coated
with 1
µ
g/cm
2
mouse laminin (Millipore, Burlington, MA, USA). Flasks were left untouched for three
days, at which point growth media was changed, and cells were cultured using standard practices on
tissue-culture plastic coated with iMatrix recombinant laminin-511 (NC1547124, iMatrix-511, Fisher,
Waltham, MA, USA). After two weeks of culture, puromycin in growth media was replaced with 1%
antibiotic–antimycotic. For dierentiation, media comprised DMEM +GlutaMax enriched with 2%
FBS and 1% Antibiotic–Antimycotic solution.
2.2. Proliferation Assay
A proliferation assay was performed using CyQuant Reagent (ThermoFisher), following the
supplier’s instructions. Briefly, BSCs were seeded in a 96-well plate at a density of 500 cells/well. Cell
culture media consisted of either standard proliferation media or proliferation media with added
hemoglobin from bovine blood (Sigma, St Louis, MO, USA) or myoglobin from equine skeletal muscle
(Sigma) in concentrations of 1, 3, or 5 mg/mL. Both proteins were provided by the supplier in the
oxidized met redox form (metmyoglobin or methemoglobin). Four plates were prepared with 6
replicates per group (n=6) and single plates were recovered after 1, 3, 5, and 7 days of incubation by
aspirating the media and storage at
80
C. 100
µ
L media was aspirated and replaced by fresh media
after 4 days. When all plates were recovered, CyQuant working solution was prepared by diluting the
supplied lysis reagent 1:20 in sterile H
2
O, followed by the addition of the dye reagent to a dilution of
1:400. Plates were thawed at room temperature, and 200
µ
L of CyQuant working solution was added
to each well. Fluorescence was measured at an excitation of 480 nm and emission of 520 nm with
a spectrophotometer (Synergy H1, Biotek, Winooski, VT, USA). Cell number was calculated with a
standard curve of cells seeded at a known density.
2.3. 3D BAM Formation
BSC dierentiation was based on anchor point attachment in a fibrin hydrogel. To allow elongation
and dierentiation of BSCs along 2 anchor points, an anchor point construct fitting into individual
wells of a 24-well plate in dierent confirmations was designed with SolidWorks and 3D printed on a
Foods 2019,8, 521 4 of 19
desktop 3D printer (3DWOX 201, Sindoh, South Korea) with standard polylactide (PLA) filament (S1
File). One day prior to BSC seeding, individual wells of 24-well plates were treated at RT with 1 mL
of 5% Pluronic F-127 (P2443, Sigma) to decrease cell attachment to the well surfaces. After 30 min,
the liquid was aspirated and the plate was kept with open lid in the flow hood for 1–2 h to ensure
complete evaporation. Anchor point constructs were sterilized with 70% ethanol and stored together
with the 24-well plate overnight under UV light.
For BAM formation, BSCs at a density of 3.5
×
10
6
cells/well were combined with 20 mM CaCl
2
in
proliferation media. For groups with heme protein, proliferation media also contained Hb or Mb at
a concentration of 3 mg/mL. Cell mixture was added to individual wells with pre-added thrombin
from bovine plasma (Sigma) with a total enzyme activity of 0.6 U. Finally, bovine concentrated plasma
fibrinogen stock (341573, EMD Millipore, Bedford, MA, USA) diluted in H
2
O was added to make up a
final concentration of 3 mg/mL, and the solution was mixed quickly by pipetting up and down multiple
times. All reagents were sterile-filtered prior to use. The total volume of the cell-reagent mix was
800
µ
L. Furthermore, the fibrinolytic inhibitor aminocaproic acid (ACA) (Sigma), at a concentration of
1 mg/mL, was added to BSC-Fibroin mix, as well as to media, to prevent rapid hydrogel degradation.
To observe muscle tissue formation without fibrinolysis inhibitor, one batch was incubated without
ACA. Plates were incubated for at least 30 min, at 37
C, to initiate hydrogel polymerization. Then,
1.2 mL of respective proliferation media containing either no or 3 mg/mL of heme proteins was added
to each well, and incubation continued at 37
C. After 1 day, media was aspirated and replaced with
dierentiation media. Every 3 days, media was replaced with fresh media, containing the respective
heme proteins. After 9 days, BAMs were removed with forceps from anchor-point construct for further
analysis. As a control for hydrogel compaction, gel without added cells was used. Prior to tissue
harvesting, thickness and width were measured with a digital caliper while still on the construct.
The length was equal to spacing between the 3D constructs
´
anchor points (13.14 mm end-to-end).
Weight was measured with a standard lab balance. For further analysis, groups were compared against
commercially available ground beef (80% lean, 20% fat) purchased from a local supermarket.
2.4. Time-Lapse Imaging
Initial BAM formation was visualized with a BZ-X710 fluorescent microscope (Keyence, Japan).
Then, 3.5
×
10
6
BSCs in a fibrin hydrogel were prepared, as described above, and incubated for 30 min
at 37
C, to induce gelation. Media was then added, and the plate was transferred to the microscope
in a thermo-, and gas-stable chamber at 37
C and CO
2
of 5%. Images of dierent regions of the gel
were taken with z-Stack every 15 min for 12 h. Time-lapse video was prepared with KEYANCE BZ-X
Analyzer software at 2 frames per second.
2.5. Biochemical Analysis
Nitric oxide release of BAM was quantified with a commercially available kit (Total Nitric Oxide
and Nitrate/Nitrite Parameter Assay Kit, R&D Systems, Minneapolis, MN, USA), by following the
supplier’s instructions. Briefly, BAMs were grown in fibrin hydrogel with dierentiation media, and
media recovered after 72 h of incubation (n=5). The media was centrifuged for 3
×
10 min at 13,400
rpm to remove particles, and 50 of
µ
L supernatant (diluted 1:5) was added to a 96-microwell plate.
Indirect measurement of nitric oxide was performed by measuring the level of nitric oxide metabolites
nitrate and nitrite assay with Griess reagent, and absorbance measured at 540 nm. Concentration was
calculated from a nitrite and nitrate standard. Soluble Glycosaminoglycan (GAG) released by the cells
was measured with a GAG Kit (Chondrex, Redmond, WA, USA). Briefly, media was removed from
BAMs, following 72 h of incubation, and added to a 96-well plate in duplicates (n=6) with dierent
dilutions. Samples were then either incubated in 100
µ
L of Dye Reagent or 100
µ
L of PBS as a control,
and absorbance was measured at 525 nm. Concentration was calculated from a known standard.
Foods 2019,8, 521 5 of 19
2.6. DNA Quantification
DNA from 7–15 mg of wet tissue was extracted using the DNeasy Blood and Tissue Kit (Qiagen,
Hilden, Germany), following the manufacturer’s instructions. Briefly, BAM samples (n=4) were
incubated at 55
C with proteinase K solution, until the tissue was completely digested. DNA was
extracted with spin columns and measured with a Qubit 3.0 Fluorometer (ThermoFisher). The total
amount of DNA was calculated from a known DNA standard.
2.7. Immunohistochemistry
To verify the identity and myogenicity of isolated bovine satellite cells, they were cultured in 2D
and stained for Pax7 during proliferation, or for Troponin T, following one week of dierentiation. To
evaluate cell development in fibrin hydrogels, BAMs were cultured for 9 days, and stained for Troponin
T. For all immunofluorescent staining, the same protocol was used. Briefly, cells or BAMs were fixed at
room temperature for 30 min using 4% paraformaldehyde, washed in PBS 3
×
, and stored in PBS at
4
C before staining. For staining, cells were permeabilized for 15 min using 0.5% Triton-X (Sigma, St
Louis, MO, USA) in PBS, blocked for 45 min, using 5% goat serum (Gibco) in PBS with 0.05% sodium
azide (Sigma), and washed 3x with PBS containing 0.1% Tween-20 (Sigma). Primary Pax7 antibodies
(Thermo Fisher, #PA5-68506) were diluted 1:100 in blocking solution containing 1:100 Phalloidin 594
(Thermo Fisher, Pittsburg, PA, USA; #A12381) and added to 2D proliferating cells. Primary Troponin
T antibodies (developmental studies hybridoma bank, CT3) were diluted to 4
µ
g/mL in blocking
solution containing 1:100 Phalloidin 594 (Thermo Fisher, #A12381) and added to 2D dierentiated cells
or BAMs. Primary antibodies were incubated overnight at 4
C. The following day, cells or BAMs
were washed 3
×
with PBS +Tween-20. For 2D, secondary antibodies for Pax7 (Invitrogen, Carlsbad,
CA, USA; goat-anti-rabbit AlexaFluor-488, #A-11008, 1:500) and Troponin T (Thermo Fisher Scientific
goat-anti-mouse AlexaFluor-488, #A-11001, 1:1000) were diluted in blocking solution and added to
cells for 1 h at room temperature. Cells were washed 3
×
with PBS +Tween-20 and mounted with
Fluoroshield mounting medium with DAPI (Abcam, Cambridge, UK) before imaging. For BAMs,
secondary antibodies for Troponin T were diluted in blocking solution containing DAPI (Thermo
Fisher, #62248, 1:1000) and added to constructs for 1 h at room temperature. Constructs were washed
3×and stored in PBS +Tween-20 for imaging.
2.8. Live–Dead Staining and Alignment Quantification
After 8 days of incubation, BAMs were incubated with dierentiation media containing 2
µ
M
calcein AM and 4
µ
M of ethidium homodimer (L3224, ThermoFisher) for 30 min at 37
C. Live–dead
stained samples (n=3) were then Z-stack and/or XY-stitch imaged, using the 488 nm and 594 nm
filters on a BZ-X700 fluorescent microscope (Keyence, Japan). The alignment of muscle cells was
quantified from calcein AM images by ImageJ with the Fiji plugin. Briefly, images were transformed
into 16-bit type and analyzed individually with the “Directionality” tool. The analysis was set to
Fourier components, 90 bins and
90
to +90
. The obtained histogram was normalized to the main
axis, e.g., the orientation angle with most alignment. Normalized data were used for calculation of
aligned structures within 10and 10of the main axis.
2.9. Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM)
BAMs were dehydrated for 10 min at a time in 35%, 60%, 80%, 90%, 95%, and 100% ethanol, after
which they were transferred into hexamethyldisilazane (Sigma) for 10 min. Hexamethyldisilazane was
then aspirated and samples were left to air-dry in a fume hood. Prior to SEM imaging, samples (n=5)
were sputter-coated with gold for 120 s, using a SC7620 sputter coater (Quorum Technologies, East
Sussex, UK). Imaging was performed on a Zeiss EVO-10MA scanning electron microscope (Zeiss, Jena,
Germany).
Foods 2019,8, 521 6 of 19
2.10. Color Image Analysis
BAMs were placed, while still on the 3D-printed anchor construct, on a petri dish with a white
background, within a flow hood, and images were taken with a digital camera (Canon DS126311), with
2 fluorescent lamps as illumination. Camera settings were ISO 200 and 1/20 s exposure. Images of
beef samples were also taken in the same conditions. Images were then analyzed on ImageJ (v1.51,
NIH) for RGB colors, by measuring several areas per sample and calculating the mean. RGB colors
were furthermore converted into L*a*b* colors, where L* shows lightness, a* red/green spectra, and b*
blue/yellow spectra of the sample. Overall changes of color compared to either fresh beef or cooked
beef was expressed as delta E (E), following the CIE76 formula:
E=q(L2L1)2+(a2a1)2+(b2b1)2, (1)
where L*
2
, a*
2
, and b*
2
express the values of the respective BAM sample, while L*
1
, a*
1
, and b*
1
express
the average values of either fresh or cooked beef.
E expresses the relative color dierence between 2
samples. While
E=0 shows identical colors, low values indicate high similarity, and high values
indicate low similarity between two colors.
2.11. Cooking of Beef Samples
To compare color of BAMs with cooked beef, beef samples were cooked on a hot plate in a metal
mold. First, beef samples were cut into small pieces, similar to the size of the BAMs. Prior to cooking,
the weight of samples was measured and the hot plate heated to 145
C. A stainless steel base mold
(Thermo Fisher) was moistened with a small volume of olive oil and put in the center of the hot plate.
After several minutes, a single sample was added onto the metal mold with forceps and heated for 30 s.
Then, the sample was turned to the other side, and heating continued for 30 s. Finally, the sample was
recovered and weighed after cooking. Then, images of the sample were taken for color analysis, as
described above.
2.12. Total Pigment Extraction
Total pigment extraction was performed following previously published protocols [
31
,
32
]. Briefly,
20–60 mg samples of BAM and beef were added to a 0.1 M sodium phosphate buer with a total
volume of 10
×
the tissue weight and homogenized (Polytron PT 10-35, FisherSci, Hampton, NH, USA).
Pigments were extracted for at least 1 h at RT, after which homogenate was centrifuged 3
×
15 min at
13,000 rpm, and the supernatant was taken for absorbance spectra measurement. Total pigments were
calculated from a prepared standard of known concentration of Hb or Mb. BSCs, BSCs +Mb, and
ground beef showed maximum absorbance at 409 nm (Metmyoglobin), BSCs +Hb showed maximum
absorbance at 406 nm (Methemoglobin). Therefore, the concentration of dierent groups was calculated
with the standard curve of the respective protein.
2.13. Statistical Analysis
GraphPad Prism 8 was used for all statistical analyses. For comparisons of multiple groups for only
one parameter, one-way ANOVA and Tukey
´
s multiple comparison tests were applied. Significance is
indicated in bar graphs with asterisk signs (*), indicating p-value of p
0.05 (*), p
0.01 (**), or p
0.001 (***). No significance (n.s.) is displayed for p>0.05.
3. Results
3.1. Bovine Myosatellite Cell Characterization
Following a bovine muscle biopsy and cell expansion
in vitro
, characterization of proliferative cells
by immunohistochemistry showed positive staining for the transcription factor Pax7, a nuclear identifier
Foods 2019,8, 521 7 of 19
of myosatellite cell phenotype (Figure 1). Expression of Pax7 in all imaged cells indicates successful
isolation of satellite cells from other cell types (i.e., fibroblasts), using the described pre-plating isolation
method. After cultured cells reached confluency, they were dierentiated for one week and stained
for Troponin T. Expression of Troponin T, a sarcomeric protein involved in the contractile complex of
skeletal muscle, indicates the myogenicity of isolated cells and verifies the successful isolation of a
skeletal muscle precursor cell population.
Figure 1.
Two-dimensional immunofluorescence stain of isolated bovine muscle satellite cells (BSCs).
(
A
) Proliferating bovine satellite stained for DAPI, actin cytoskeleton (Phalloidin), and Pax7, a nuclear
marker of satellite cells. Stains show a highly pure satellite cell population, following isolation and
pre-plating protocol. (
B
) Following one week of dierentiation, cells were stained for DAPI, actin
cytoskeleton (Phalloidin), and Troponin T (CT3), a marker of myogenesis. Scale bars are 200 µm.
3.2. Myoglobin Increases Proliferation of BSCs
The influence of Mb and Hb on the proliferation capacity of BSCs was observed by growing
cells for one week with or without added heme proteins at dierent concentrations. From day three
onward, Mb administered at 3 mg/mL resulted in a significant increase in proliferation compared to the
untreated BSC group (Figure 2A). The Hb-treated group showed significantly decreased proliferation
compared to the control group on day five and significantly decreased proliferation compared to the
Mb group from day three on. Cell-doubling time in hours (calculated from initial cell number and cell
number at day 7) was 41.67
±
2.55 for BSCs, 43.28
±
0.66 for BSC +Hb, and 36.63
±
0.74 for BSC +Mb.
Additionally, the eects of the concentration of heme protein on the proliferation potential of BSCs
were analyzed. A linear decrease in proliferation was observed in the Hb group from 1 mg/mL to 3
mg/mL and 5 mg/mL, after one, three, and five days (Figure 2B). After seven days, significant dierences
only persisted between 3 mg/mL and 5 mg/mL. The protein concentration of Mb had less eect on
cell proliferation; however, on day seven, protein concentrations of 3 mg/mL and 5 mg/mL showed
a significantly higher cell number compared to 1 mg/mL (Figure 2C). Taken together, these results
indicate that addition of Mb to the culture media increases the proliferation capacity of BSCs, while
addition of Hb has either no or a slightly negative eect on proliferation. Furthermore, proliferation
eects were concentration dependent for Hb, but less so for Mb.
Foods 2019,8, 521 8 of 19
Figure 2.
Proliferation of BSCs grown in the presence of dierent Hb or Mb concentrations in 2D. (
A
)
Cell number of BSCs, BSCs +3 mg/mL Hb, or BSCs +3 mg/mL Mb, quantified with CyQuant reagent
(n=6) after one, three, five, and seven days. BSCs proliferation with dierent concentrations of (
B
) Hb
and (
C
) Mb, at 1, 3 or 5 mg/mL was observed (n=6). Cell number was calculated from a standard
curve prepared from cells seeded at known density. * p0.05, ** p0.01, *** p0.001.
3.3. BAM Formation and Dimensions
Previous studies have utilized Velcro glued to the opposite side of culture dishes or well-plates
to serve as “anchor points” for muscle cells [
33
,
34
]; however, this procedure is operator-dependent,
work-intensive and dicult to standardize. For this study, anchor-point constructs were designed
and 3D-printed in dierent configurations (for 3D models, see S1 File) to fit into individual wells of a
24-well plate. BSCs were incubated for nine days in a fibrin hydrogel in order to allow maturation and
elongation to a BAM along the anchor point axis, and to observe coloration eects of heme proteins at
a concentration of 3 mg/mL (Figure 3A). Elongation and compaction of the BAMs along the anchor
points were already observed within the first few hours, reaching a stable form after 10 h, both at
the center (Video S1) and at the anchor points (Video S2) of the BAMs. To prevent fast degradation
of the fibrin hydrogel by the cells, leading to detachment of BAMs from one or both anchor points,
the fibrinolysis inhibitor aminocaproic acid (ACA) was added. A control group was grown, without
ACA, to observe the eects of full hydrogel compaction. BAMs with ACA did not significantly dier
in weight, thickness, or width (Figure 3B). When fibrinolysis was not inhibited (–ACA), the BAM
weight was reduced by over 85% in all groups, showing that the hydrogel makes up a large part of the
Foods 2019,8, 521 9 of 19
total muscle construct weight. Moreover, BAMs grown without ACA detached from the anchor point
construct after 3–4 days of incubation. Even in the presence of fibrinolysis inhibitors (+ACA), muscle
tissue weight was 80%–85% lower than the weight of the hydrogel without added cells, indicating
partial gel compaction by the cells. Quantification of DNA content of the +ACA groups did not show
significant dierences among the groups (Figure 3C).
Figure 3.
Properties of skeletal muscle tissue formation. (
A
) Representative images of bioartificial
muscles (BAMs) generated from BSCs, BSCs +Hb, and BSCs +Mb (3 mg/mL for both heme proteins) at
dierent time points (one, four, seven, and nine days of incubation), showing increased color intensity
in constructs with Hb and Mb. Scale bar is 10 mm. (
B
) Weight, width, and thickness of BAMs at time
point of harvest are presented. Groups were compared against groups without added ACA (–ACA)
and fibrin gel without added cells, both incubated for an equal amount of time, in the same conditions,
for comparison of hydrogel compaction by the cells. Width and thickness could only be measured in
the +ACA BAMs, as –ACA BAMs detached from anchor points and lost their physical form. (
C
) DNA
of BSCs, BSCs +Mb (n=5), and BSCs +Hb (n=4) was extracted by proteinase K degradation, and
absorbance was measured with NanoDrop.
3.4. BAM Morphology, Dierentiation, and Viability
Dierentiation of BSCs into mature muscle cells in fibrin constructs was visualized through
staining for Troponin T. In the BSC and BSC +Mb group, early dierentiation after eight days was
observed as indicated by positive Troponin T staining of long, tube-like multi-nucleated cells (Figure 4).
These myotubes were aligned, following the general alignment of all cells, as indicated by Phalloidin
staining of the actin cytoskeleton. While both these groups showed several elongated cells that were
positive for Troponin T, the degree of myogenesis was moderate, and many cells did not appear to have
formed myotubes. No major dierence was seen in myogenicity between BSCs alone and BSCs treated
with Mb. In contrast, the BSC +Hb group showed no positive staining for Troponin T, indicating little
or no myogenic dierentiation. At the same time, cells in these constructs appeared less elongated and
aligned, indicating that cellular morphology in general was possibly adversely aected by the addition
of Hb. Hence, both the BSC and BSC +Mb group showed early myogenesis, which was not observed
in the BSC +Hb group.
Foods 2019,8, 521 10 of 19
Figure 4.
Confocal immunofluorescent imaging of BAMs. BAMs generated from BSC, BSC +Hb,
or BSC +Mb (3 mg/mL for both heme proteins) were stained after eight days of dierentiation for
DAPI, actin cytoskeleton (Phalloidin), and Troponin T (CT3), a marker of myogenesis. Images show
multinucleated myotube formation in BSC and BSC +Mb constructs, though not in BSC +Hb constructs.
Scale bars are 200 µm.
To visualize and compare cell viability among the dierent groups, BAMs were live–dead stained
after eight days of incubation (Figure 5). The staining revealed no observable dierence of live and
dead cells among the dierent groups, suggesting that the addition of Hb and Mb does not impact cell
viability at a visually detectable level. Green staining from calcein AM revealed a high number of viable
cells in all groups, as well as elongated muscle-like morphologies and alignment along the anchor
points. Red staining from ethidium homodimer indicated the presence of dead cells, particularly in the
deeper layers of the tissue.
Figure 5.
Live–dead staining of muscle constructs. BAMs generated from BSC, BSC +Hb, or
BSC +Mb (3 mg/mL for both heme proteins) were stained with calcein AM (live cells, green) and
ethidium homodimer (dead cells, red), to observe overall cell viability. Images were taken in green
channel (488 nm) and red channel (594 nm), under identical microscope conditions, with z-Stack. For
visualization of overall cell viability in total construct, x-y-stitching was performed. Scale bar in single
channel images is 200 µm, and scale bar in the total construct is 1000 µm.
Foods 2019,8, 521 11 of 19
From the calcein AM staining, cell alignment was quantified. We found that cell alignment was
highest in the BSC group (61.2%), significantly higher compared to the BSC +Hb (45.7%, p<0.0001)
and the BSC +Mb group (51.1%, p=0.0005) (Figure 6), while significant, overall dierences were small.
Figure 6.
Alignment of BSCs. (
A
) BAMs generated from BSC, BSC +Hb, or BSC +Mb (3 mg/mL for
both heme proteins) were stained with calcein AM and imaged with a fluorescent microscope, after
which images were processed on Fiji with the Directionality tool (Fourier method). Cell alignment
was determined as the percentage of structures that were aligned between
10
and 10
in relation to
the axis of alignment (0
). Statistical significance was determined by one-way ANOVA and Tukey’s
multiple comparison post hoc test (
α
=0.05). Error bars are standard deviations (n=9). (
B
) Average
myotube orientation of the control group (BSC) was visualized by representative MatLab rose plot. ***
p0.001.
Cell alignment was also confirmed via SEM imaging (Figure 7). The surface of both treated and
untreated BAMs reveals the presence of aligned elongated structures. SEM imaging also demonstrates
how BSC hydrogel compaction generates a dense cellular network without visible porous areas.
Figure 7.
Scanning electron microscopy images of BAMs. BAMs generated from BSC, BSC +Hb, or BSC
+Mb (3 mg/mL for both heme proteins) were dehydrated and sputter coated with gold. Images were
taken in 1000
×
magnification (scale bar =50
µ
m) in the center of the tissue and 2000
×
magnification
(scale bar =100 µm) from the side of the tissue.
Foods 2019,8, 521 12 of 19
3.5. Biochemical Activity
As an indicator of overall metabolic activity, we measured the media content of the signaling
molecule NO and the secreted ECM molecule GAG (Figure 8). The NO level of the BSC +Mb group
was slightly increased compared to the BSCs (p=0.038) and BSC +Hb group (p=0.015). Soluble GAG
quantification showed a slight increase in the BSC +Mb group compared with the BSC +Hb group,
but the increase was not significant (p=0.07). Taken together, these results indicate a slightly increased
metabolic activity in samples incubated with Mb.
Figure 8.
Biochemical analysis of secreted proteins by BAMs. Cell culture media from BAMs generated
from BSC, BSC +Hb, or BSC +Mb (3 mg/mL for both heme proteins) was removed after 72 h of
incubation and measured for (
A
) Nitric Oxide (n=5) and (
B
) Soluble GAGs (n=6) content. * p
0.05.
3.6. Pigment Content and Color of BAMs
Total pigment content (both Hb and Mb) of the BAM groups and beef was calculated by absorbance
measurement, following homogenization and pigment extraction (Figure 9A). Pigment content in
beef was found to be 16.68
±
1.05 mg/g, which corresponds to the expected heme content in young
and mature cattle [
35
]. BSCs without added heme proteins contained 0.93
±
0.52 mg/g, and Hb and
Mb groups contained 2.89
±
0.89 mg/g and 1.77
±
0.25 mg/g respectively. While all BAM groups had
significantly lower pigment content compared with beef, the BSC +Hb and the BSC +Mb group had a
significantly higher pigment content compared to the BSC group. Taken together, these results show
an increased pigment content in groups with added heme proteins, though at a lower level compared
to the beef samples.
Figure 9.
Pigment content and tissue coloration. (
A
) Total pigment content was quantified
spectroscopically by homogenization of BAMs generated from BSC, BSC +Hb, or BSC +Mb (3 mg/mL
for both heme proteins) and beef (n=6 for all groups) in a sodium phosphate buer, leading to pigment
release into the solution. The amount of pigment was calculated from a standard of Hb and Mb. (
B
)
Average L*a*b* values for BSC (n=6), BSC +Hb (n=5), and BSC +Mb (n=6) and beef (n=9) are
displayed. Beef color is presented as fresh or cooked BAM color after incubation of one day or nine
days. * p0.05, ** p0.01, *** p0.001.
Foods 2019,8, 521 13 of 19
The color of BAMs was analyzed by digital imaging after one and nine days of incubation. Images
were analyzed for L*a*b* values with ImageJ and compared with fresh or cooked beef samples in terms
of relative color similarity (
E).
E shows a high color similarity at low values (identical colors have
a
E value of zero) and a low color similarity with high values. Results show that heme containing
BAMs always had a higher color similarity, both with fresh and cooked beef than the BSC control
group (Figure 9B). Interestingly, even though BSC +Hb had the highest pigment content, the highest
color similarity after nine days of incubation was found between cooked beef and BSC +Mb (
E=5.4
±
2.1), followed by BSC +Hb (
E=9.0
±
0.9); meanwhile, the BSC group had a much lower similarity
(
E=24.5
±
2.4) (Table 1). There was a higher similarity to cooked meat than to fresh meat in all
samples. This is a result of the heme redox form (met-form) utilized in this study, which is the redox
form present in cooked beef. However, it is expected that dierent redox forms of heme proteins will
have a similar coloration eect on BAMs. With longer incubation times, a decrease in the L* value
and an increase in the a* and b* values were observed in all BAM samples, approaching the values
of cooked beef. This demonstrates the importance of longer incubation times with heme proteins to
facilitate the maturation of tissue and increased coloration. Taken together, these results show that
the cultivation of BAMs with heme proteins leads to a higher color similarity with beef than when no
heme proteins are applied, which was especially evident for the Mb application.
Table 1.
Color of BAMs generated from BSC, BSC +Hb, or BSC +Mb (3 mg/mL for both heme proteins)
after one or nine days of incubation, compared with fresh and cooked beef samples.
Beef BSC BSC +Hb BSC +Mb
Fresh Cooked Day 1 Day 9 Day 1 Day 9 Day 1 Day 9
L*
45.9
±
3.2 44.5
±
0.9 76.4
±
1.5 66.3
±
3.7 60.9
±
1.1 47.5
±
1.7 64.5
±
1.5 42.8
±
4.1
a*
37.2
±
0.6 12.9
±
0.9
3.5 ±0.9
20.8
±
3.3 11.4
±
1.0 20.9
±
0.9
8.1 ±0.7
15.6
±
1.0
b*
37.7
±
0.8 33.7
±
0.7 32.7
±
0.9 26.8
±
0.7 42.3
±
0.6 36.1
±
0.4 43.1
±
1.3 31.7
±
1.4
E (fresh) a
45.7
±
1.5 28.4
±
4.2 30.1
±
1.1 16.4
±
0.9 34.9
±
1.1 23.0
±
1.3
E (cooked)
33.3
±
1.6 24.5
±
2.4 18.6
±
0.8
9.0 ±0.9
22.6
±
1.2
5.4 ±2.1
a
E (fresh) represents color similarity of a given group with fresh beef, and
E (cooked) represents color similarity
with cooked beef. Values for L* (lightness), a* (red/green spectra), and b* (blue/yellow spectra) are presented. The
relative color dierence between BAMs and either fresh or cooked beef is expressed as
E. A value of
E=0
represents identical colors, while higher values represent a greater dierence in color.
4. Discussion
Cell-based meat is a promising technology to utilize muscle-tissue engineering for food production.
In this study, we investigated the role of extracellular added heme proteins Hb and Mb on the
development of cell-based meat. We chose these specific heme proteins, as they are either already
applied in food products (Hb) or highly abundant in muscle tissue
in vivo
(Mb). Heme proteins are
of interest for
in vitro
beef production for several reasons. First, the content of heme is responsible
for the typical color of meat, and added heme proteins would ideally diminish the necessity of
other colorants and resemble the native color of meat more precisely. Second, heme proteins are in
part responsible for the slightly metallic taste of beef and can increase the iron content of the final
product [
30
]. Third, Mb has very low expression levels in undierentiated muscle cells [
24
,
36
], but has
important functions within dierentiated muscle tissue; therefore, incorporation of extracellular Mb
might influence biochemical activity and cell proliferation. Our results show that heme proteins have
an eect on the proliferation and coloration of the tissue, with Mb showing a more beneficial outcome.
We found that the proliferation of BSCs in 2D was increased in the presence of Mb, while Hb
had no, or a slightly negative, eect on cell proliferation. We hypothesize that added Mb increases
oxygen transport to mitochondria and subsequent biochemical activity, which could explain the
observed increased proliferation potential. To our knowledge, Mb-induced increased proliferation of
myosatellite cells was not yet described. However, in other cell types, Mb does not seem to stimulate
proliferation. Increased Mb expression in human cancer cells decreases cell proliferation due to
interaction with mitochondria [
37
]. In cell culture, both free Hb and Mb were shown to cause damage
Foods 2019,8, 521 14 of 19
to renal cells, starting from concentrations as low as 1 mg/mL [
38
]. A study observing the eect of Hb
on smooth muscle cells showed reduced proliferation potential at concentrations of 100
µ
M (equivalent
to 6.5 mg/mL) due to free radicals, which might explain the slightly decreased proliferation of BSCs
upon Hb addition. Hemoglobin was shown to cause damaging eects to tissue due to NO depletion
and hemin release [
39
]. Free heme is known to cause toxicity due to the oxidative potential of free iron,
as observed
in vivo
in certain kidney diseases in humans [
38
,
40
]. Thus, the beneficial eect of Mb on
myosatellite cell proliferation seems to be cell-specific. Along with other methods, such as genetical
engineering of cells [
41
], the addition of Mb to the cell culture media might therefor be of value for
large-scale cell expansion.
After nine days of incubation in a fibrin hydrogel, BAMs had average tissue dimensions similar
to previously published results [
42
,
43
]; however, some groups have achieved larger constructs with
dierent approaches, such as specialized bioreactors [
44
], cell-sheet stacking [
45
], 3D bioprinting [
46
],
or coculture systems with endothelial cells [
47
]. The size of constructs, however, depends largely
on initial cell number, scaold volume, and cultivation method. Fibrin hydrogel in this study was
animal-derived; however, recombinant fibrin formulations were also previously described [
48
,
49
].
After eight days of incubation in dierentiation media, early myogenesis of BSCs and BSCs +Mb
was observed by Troponin T staining. It is possible that, given more time, additional cells may have
fused [
43
]. However, for cell-based meat development, full dierentiation of skeletal muscle cells
might not be required [
50
]. SEM imaging and cell alignment quantification furthermore confirmed
fibrillar and dense surface structure, comparable to results published by other groups [
51
,
52
], and
opposed to fibrin hydrogels grown without the presence of cells, which show greater porosity [
53
],
which is beneficial, as fibrillar structures are integral for meat texture. Cell death was observed in
deeper layers of the tissue, which is commonly reported, as tissues without blood vessels or perfusable
chambers show decreased viability beyond 100–200
µ
m of the tissue surface, due to an insucient
supply of oxygen and nutrients [
54
]. Furthermore, high cell-seeding densities, additionally increased
by compaction of the hydrogel, are known to cause stress in cell culture, leading to apoptosis. These
results underline the importance of development of tissue vascularization or perfusion methods [
55
].
Biochemical activity appeared to be slightly increased in Mb-treated groups, in terms of secreted
NO and GAGs. Skeletal muscle cells produce NO by nitric oxide synthases. NOs are gaseous free
radicals that can freely transverse cell membranes and act as signaling molecules, which are associated
with muscle repair and regeneration [
56
,
57
]. GAGs are part of proteoglycans and have an important
function in the binding and storage of growth factors; furthermore, they act as a protein anchorage
present in the extracellular matrix to facilitate cell-substrate adhesion. The release of dierent GAGs,
e.g., hyaluronic acid, heparan sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, and chondroitin, by skeletal muscle cells was
previously reported [
58
60
]. Increased secretion of these molecules might indicate higher metabolic
activity in the muscle tissue.
Globally, a lot of research was performed on color and color stability of meat due to commercial
interest in proper meat packaging and display; however, changing the color of bioengineered tissue
constructs has evoked little scientific interest to date. To compare coloration between samples,
we applied digital imaging methods, which delivered reliable results for meat and other food
samples [
61
64
]. The color of meat is mainly influenced by the content and redox-form of myoglobin,
with oxymyoglobin being bright red and metmyoglobin being brown–red [
21
]. In this study, we
utilized the Hb and Mb in the met-form due to commercial availability, which led to a darker coloration
compared to fresh beef, but a very similar color compared with cooked beef, especially when Mb was
applied. This is due to oxidation of oxymyoglobin to metmyoglobin during the cooking process in beef.
Similar coloration can be expected with dierent redox forms of heme proteins, and heme proteins can
be stabilized with a variety of methods to obtain the oxymyoglobin form [
25
]. While heme containing
BAMs had a more similar color to cooked meat, the color dierences were still evident. This could be
explained by an insucient concentration of heme proteins; the cultivation system used, as meat is a
multi-cellular tissue and does not solely consist of muscle cells; and by the fibrin hydrogel, which does
Foods 2019,8, 521 15 of 19
not properly represent the extracellular matrix of meat. Given these limitations, further optimization
of heme protein application for a more sophisticated cell-based meat product might yield a higher
color similarity. Taken together, our results show that heme proteins can be applied in cell-based meat
production to drive the color of both raw and cooked cell-based meat. Apart from the coloration,
heme proteins might also influence the flavor of the product, as currently applied for the plant-based
“Impossible Burger”.
Due to availability, heme proteins applied in this study were animal-derived. As a requirement
for cell-based meat is the avoidance of animal products, plant-extracted or recombinant heme proteins
are of higher interest for actual production processes. Other strategies to increase heme protein
content might include a process design that enables higher myoglobin expression by muscle cells. For
example, the restriction of iron leads to a 0.5-fold increase in myoglobin content in mice muscle tissue
compared to untreated animals [
65
]. An almost 2-fold increase in myoglobin content in C2C12 cells
in 5% lipid supplemented growth media was reported [
66
]. Up to a 15-fold increase in myoglobin
expression in vascular smooth muscle cells was found when treated with nitric oxide [
67
]. Dierent
groups showed increased myoglobin expression in muscle cells from the addition of 0.5 mM of acetic
acid [
68
] or ursolic acid [
69
] to the cell culture media. Previous studies also showed that hypoxia
leads to increased myoglobin expression [
36
], and hypoxic cell culture conditions increased BSC
proliferation and dierentiation [
27
]. However, muscle cells are one of only a few cell types that
maintain cell proliferation under hypoxia, which must be taken into consideration in coculture systems
with endothelial cells and adipocytes [
70
]. These or other changes in process parameters might be
of interest to increase myoglobin production by the cells, but diculties might arise when taking
coculture systems, toxicity of certain supplements, or feasible production conditions and/or costs
into account.
5. Conclusions
We demonstrated that heme proteins, added directly to the cell culture media can influence
proliferation of bovine skeletal muscle cells and can lead to a more meat-like coloration of 3D skeletal
muscle tissues cultivated
in vitro
for the generation of cell-based meat. Furthermore, heme protein
Mb had preferable attributes compared to Hb as a cell-culture media additive. This study shows the
potential of heme proteins to be utilized in the development of cell-based meat.
Supplementary Materials:
The following are available online at http://www.mdpi.com/2304-8158/8/10/521/s1.
S1 File:
3D models of anchor point constructs in dierent configurations for 24-well plate. Video S1: Time lapse
of hydrogel compaction by skeletal muscle cells in the middle of the BAM. Video S2: Time lapse of hydrogel
compaction by skeletal muscle cells on the anchor point of the BAM.
Author Contributions:
Conceptualization, R.S. and D.L.K.; Methodology, R.S., J.Y., A.S., and N.R.; Software, R.S.
and J.Y.; Validation, R.S., J.Y., A.S., and N.R.; Formal analysis, R.S., and A.S.; Investigation, R.S., J.Y., A.S., and N.R.;
Resources, D.L.K.; data Curation, R.S. and A.S.; Writing—original draft preparation, R.S., J.Y., A.S., N.R., D.L.K.,
and P.F.; Writing—review and editing, R.S., D.L.K., and P.F.; Visualization, R.S., J.Y., and A.S.; Supervision, D.L.K.
and P.F.; Project administration, D.L.K.; Funding acquisition, D.L.K. and P.F.
Funding:
We thank the NIH (P41EB002520) and New Harvest for support of this work. R.S. is furthermore
supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie
Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 722779, conducted within the “Training 4 Cell Regenerative Medicine”
(T4CRM) network.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
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... One of the solutions is culturing in hypoxia conditions for obtaining a generation of cells with higher myoglobin content [37]. Another solution is to add heme from a plant source and hemoglobin or myoglobin from an animal source [38]. Through modification in cultured meat, composition, quality, flavor, fat, and saturated and unsaturated fatty acids the content might alter. ...
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Background Skeletal muscle wound healing is dependent on complex interactions between fibroblasts, myofibroblasts, myogenic cells, and cytokines, such as TGF-β1. This study sought to clarify the impact of TGF-β1 signaling on skeletal muscle cells and discern between the individual contributions of fibroblasts and myofibroblasts to myogenesis when in co-culture with myogenic cells. 3D tissue-engineered models were compared to equivalent 2D culture conditions to assess the efficacy of each culture model to predictively recapitulate the in vivo muscle environment. Methods TGF-β1 treatment and mono-/co-cultures containing human dermal fibroblasts or myofibroblasts and C2C12 mouse myoblasts were assessed in 2D and 3D environments. Three culture systems were compared: cell monolayers grown on 2D dishes and 3D tissues prepared via a self-assembly method or collagen 1-based hydrogel biofabrication. qPCR identified gene expression changes during fibroblast to myofibroblast and myoblast differentiation between culture conditions. Changes to cell phenotype and tissue morphology were characterized via immunostaining for myosin heavy chain, procollagen, and α-smooth muscle actin. Tissue elastic moduli were measured with parallel plate compression and atomic force microscopy systems, and a slack test was employed to quantify differences in tissue architecture and integrity. Results TGF-β1 treatment improved myogenesis in 3D mono- and co-cultures containing muscle cells, but not in 2D. The 3D TGF-β1-treated co-culture containing myoblasts and myofibroblasts expressed the highest levels of myogenin and collagen 1, demonstrating a greater capacity to drive myogenesis than fibroblasts or TGF-β1-treatment in monocultures containing only myoblasts. These constructs possessed the greatest tissue stability, integrity, and muscle fiber organization, as demonstrated by their rapid and sustained shortening velocity during slack tests, and the highest Young’s modulus of 6.55 kPA, approximate half the stiffness of in situ muscle. Both self-assembled and hydrogel-based tissues yielded the most multinucleated, elongated, and aligned muscle fiber histology. In contrast, the equivalent 2D co-culture model treated with TGF-β1 completely lacked myotube formation through suppression of myogenin gene expression. Discussion These results show skeletal muscle regeneration can be promoted by treating myogenic cells with TGF-β1, and myofibroblasts are superior enhancers of myogenesis than fibroblasts. Critically, both TGF-β1 treatment and co-culturing skeletal muscle cells with myofibroblasts can serve as myogenesis accelerators across multiple tissue engineering platforms. Equivalent 2D culture systems cannot replicate these affects, however, highlighting a need to continually improve in vitro models for skeletal muscle development, discovery of therapeutics for muscle regeneration, and research and development of in vitro meat products.
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