Nuclear morphology and deformation in engineered cardiac myocytes and tissues.
Cardiac tissue engineering requires finely-tuned manipulation of the extracellular matrix (ECM) microenvironment to optimize internal myocardial organization. The myocyte nucleus is mechanically connected to the cell membrane via cytoskeletal elements, making it a target for the cellular response to perturbation of the ECM. However, the role of ECM spatial configuration and myocyte shape on nuclear location and morphology is unknown. In this study, printed ECM proteins were used to configure the geometry of cultured neonatal rat ventricular myocytes. Engineered one- and two-dimensional tissue constructs and single myocyte islands were assayed using live fluorescence imaging to examine nuclear position, morphology and motion as a function of the imposed ECM geometry during diastolic relaxation and systolic contraction. Image analysis showed that anisotropic tissue constructs cultured on microfabricated ECM lines possessed a high degree of nuclear alignment similar to that found in vivo; nuclei in isotropic tissues were polymorphic in shape with an apparently random orientation. Nuclear eccentricity was also increased for the anisotropic tissues, suggesting that intracellular forces deform the nucleus as the cell is spatially confined. During systole, nuclei experienced increasing spatial confinement in magnitude and direction of displacement as tissue anisotropy increased, yielding anisotropic deformation. Thus, the nature of nuclear displacement and deformation during systole appears to rely on a combination of the passive myofibril spatial organization and the active stress fields induced by contraction. Such findings have implications in understanding the genomic consequences and functional response of cardiac myocytes to their ECM surroundings under conditions of disease.