Electrical and mechanical anisotropy arise from matrix and cellular alignment in native myocardium. Generation of anisotropy in engineered heart tissue will be required to match native properties and will provide immediate opportunities to investigate the genesis and structural determinants of functional anisotropy. We investigated the influence of geometry and boundary conditions on fibroblast alignment in thin collagen gels. Consistent with previous reports, we found that human dermal fibroblasts align parallel to free edges in partially constrained gels; in contrast to at least one report, fibroblasts in fully constrained gels remained randomly aligned independent of geometry. These experiments allowed us to distinguish between two possible mechanisms for such alignment. Mean orientations that followed the shape of the free edges and stronger alignment nearest the free edges in gels with a variety of geometries suggested that cells align parallel to a local free boundary rather than to local lines of tension. These findings focus attention on the presence of voids and free surfaces such as the endocardium and epicardium, cleavage planes, and blood vessels in governing cell and fiber alignment in developing and remodeling myocardium, myocardial scar tissue, and engineered heart constructs.
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