Ph.D. Dissertation Defense by Jonathan Talbot Butcher
Monday, August 16, 2004

(Dr. Robert M. Nerem, Chair)

"The Effects of Steady Laminar Shear Stress on Aortic Valve Cell Biology"


Aortic valve disease (AVD) affects millions of people of all ages around the world. Current treatment for AVD consists of valvular replacement with a non-living prosthetic valve, which is incapable of growth, self-repair, or remodeling. While tissue engineering has great promise to develop a living heart valve alternative, success in animal models has been limited. This may be attributed to the fact that understanding of valvular cell biology has not kept pace with advances in biomaterial development. Aortic valve leaflets are exposed to a complex and dynamic mechanical environment unlike any in the vasculature, and it is likely that native endothelial and interstitial cells respond to mechanical forces differently from other vascular cells. The objective of this thesis was to compare valvular cell phenotype to vascular cell phenotype, and assess the influence of steady shear stress on valvular cell biology. This thesis demonstrates that valvular endothelial cells respond differently to shear than vascular endothelial cells, by aligning perpendicular to the direction of steady shear stress, and by the differential regulation of hundreds of genes in both static and fluid flow environments. Valvular interstitial cells expressed a combination of contractile and synthetic phenotypes not mimicked by vascular smooth muscle cells. Two three-dimensional leaflet models were developed to assess cellular interactions and the influences of steady laminar shear stress. Valvular co-culture models exhibited a physiological response profile, while interstitial cell-only constructs behaved more pathologically. Steady shear stress enhanced physiological functions of valvular co-cultures, but increased pathological response of interstitial cell-only constructs. These results showed that valvular cells, whether cultured separately or together, behaved distinctly different from vascular cells. It was also determined that shear stress alone cannot induce tissue remodeling to more resemble native valve leaflets. The leaflet models developed in this thesis can be used in future experiments to explore valvular cell biology, assess the progression of certain forms AVD, and develop targeted diagnostic and therapeutic strategies to hopefully eliminate the need for valvular replacement entirely.