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Vascularized adipose tissue models are in high demand as alternatives to animal models to elucidate the mechanisms of widespread diseases, screen for new drugs or assess drug safety levels. Animal-derived sera such as fetal bovine serum (FBS), which are commonly used in these models, are associated with ethical concerns, risk of contaminations and inconsistencies of their composition and impact on cells. In this study, we developed a serum-free, defined co-culture medium and implemented it in an adipocyte/endothelial cell (EC) co-culture model.
Human adipose-derived stem cells were differentiated under defined conditions (diffASCs) and, like human microvascular ECs (mvECs), cultured in a defined co-culture medium in mono-, indirect or direct co-culture for 14 days. The defined co-culture medium was superior when compared to mono-culture media and facilitated the functional maintenance and maturation of diffASCs including perilipin A expression, lipid accumulation, and also glycerol and leptin release. The medium also allowed mvEC maintenance, confirmed by the expression of CD31 and von Willebrand factor (vWF), and by acetylated low-density lipoprotein (acLDL) uptake. Thereby, mvECs showed strong dependence on EC-specific factors. Additionally, mvECs formed vascular structures in direct co-culture with diffASCs.
The completely defined co-culture system allows for the serum-free culture of adipocyte/EC co-cultures and thereby represents a valuable and ethically acceptable tool for the culture and study of vascularized adipose tissue models.
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