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In Vitro Three-Dimensional Sprouting Assay of Angiogenesis Using Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells for Vascular Disease Modeling and Drug Testing

Published: May 11th, 2021



1Einthoven Laboratory for Experimental Vascular Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine (Nephrology), Leiden University Medical Center, 2Institute Physics for Medicine Paris, INSERM U1273, ESPCI Paris, CNRS FRE 2031, 3MEMOLIFE Laboratory of Excellence and PSL Research University

This assay utilizes mouse embryonic stem cells differentiated into embryoid bodies cultured in 3D-collagen gel to analyze the biological processes that control sprouting angiogenesis in vitro. The technique can be applied for testing drugs, modeling diseases, and for studying specific genes in the context of deletions that are embryonically lethal.

Recent advances in induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) and gene editing technologies enable the development of novel human cell-based disease models for phenotypic drug discovery (PDD) programs. Although these novel devices could predict the safety and efficacy of investigational drugs in humans more accurately, their development to the clinic still strongly rely on mammalian data, notably the use of mouse disease models. In parallel to human organoid or organ-on-chip disease models, the development of relevant in vitro mouse models is therefore an unmet need for evaluating direct drug efficacy and safety comparisons between species and in vivo and in vitro conditions. Here, a vascular sprouting assay that utilizes mouse embryonic stem cells differentiated into embryoid bodies (EBs) is described. Vascularized EBs cultured onto 3D-collagen gel develop new blood vessels that expand, a process called sprouting angiogenesis. This model recapitulates key features of in vivo sprouting angiogenesis-formation of blood vessels from a pre-existing vascular network-including endothelial tip cell selection, endothelial cell migration and proliferation, cell guidance, tube formation, and mural cell recruitment. It is amenable to screening for drugs and genes modulating angiogenesis and shows similarities with recently described three-dimensional (3D) vascular assays based on human iPSC technologies.

In the past three decades, target-based drug discovery (TDD) has been widely employed in drug discovery by the pharmaceutical industry. TDD incorporates a defined molecular target playing an important role in a disease and relies on the development of relatively simple cell culture systems and readouts for drug screening1. Most typical disease models used in TDD programs include traditional cell culture methods such as cancer cells or immortalized cell lines grown within artificial environments and non-physiological substrates. Although many of these models have provided viable tools for identifying successful drug candidates, the use of such s....

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1. Media preparation and culture of mESC

  1. Prepare conditioned medium +/- (CM+/-) using the supplement 1x Glasgow MEM (G-MEM BHK-21) medium with 10% (vol/vol) heat-inactivated Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS), 0.05 mM β-mercaptoethanol, 1x non-essential amino acids (NEAA 1x), 2 mM L-glutamine, and 1 mM sodium pyruvate.
  2. Prepare conditioned medium +/+ (CM+/+) using the supplement CM+/- medium with Leukemia Inhibitory Factor (LIF) (1,500 U/mL) and 0.1 mM β-mercaptoethanol.
  3. Prepare conditioned.......

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The protocol overview of the blood vessel sprouting assay is shown in Figure 1. Nine-day-old EBs derived from three independent 129/Ola mESC lines (Z/Red, R1, and E14) were enzymatically dissociated into single cells using collagenase A. Cells were stained for PECAM-1 and analyzed by Fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) as described. All the cell lines exhibited robust endothelial differentiation, and no differences in their ability to differentiate into endothelial cells were observed.......

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This protocol describes an unbiased, robust, and reproducible 3D EB-based vascular sprouting assay that is amenable to screening for drugs and genes modulating angiogenesis. This method offers advantages over many widely used two dimensional (2D) assays using endothelial cell cultures such as Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells (HUVECs) to monitor migration (lateral scratch assay or the Boyden chamber assay)22,23 or proliferation (counting cell number, de.......

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This work was supported by grants from the Nederlandse organisatie voor gezondheidsonderzoek en zorginnovatie (ZonMW 446002501), Health Holland (LSHM19057-H040), Leading Fellows Programme Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND, and by the Association Maladie de Rendu-Osler (AMRO).


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
2-mercaptoethanol Milipore, Merck 805740 Biohazard: adequate safety instructions should be taken when handling
Agar Noble Difco, BD Pharmigen 214220
Alexa Fluo 555 goat anti rat IgG Life technologies A21434
APC conjugated rat anti-mouse PECAM-1 antibody (clone MEC13.3) BD Biosciences 551262
APC Rat IgG2a κ Isotype Control (Clone  R35-95) BD Biosciences 553932
Axiovert 25 inverted phase contrast tissue culture microscope ZEISS
Basic Fibroblast Growth Factor-2 (bFGF) Peprotech 450-33
Benchtop Centrifuge, Allegra X-15R Beckman Coulter 392932
Biosafety cabinet BioVanguard (Green Line) Telstar 133H401001
Bovine Serum Albumin (BSA) Sigma-Aldrich A9418
Cell counting chamber, Buerker, 0.100mm Marienfeld 640211
Cell culture dishes 60 x 15mm Corning 353802
Cell culture dishes, 35 x 10 mm Corning 353801
Cell culture plates 12-well Corning 3512
CFX96 Touch Real-Time PCR Detection System Biorad 1855196
Chicken serum Sigma-Aldrich C5405
CHIR-99021 (CT99021) HCl Selleckchem S2924
Collagen I, High Concentration, Rat Tail, 100mg Corning 354249
Collagenase A Roche 10103586001
Confocal Laser Scanning Microscope, TCS SP5 Leica
Cover glasses, 24 × 50 mm Vwr 631-0146
DAPT γ‑secretase inhibitor Sigma Aldrich D5942
DC101 anti mouse VEGFR-2 Clone BioXcell BP0060
DC101 isotype rat IgG1 BioXcell BP0290
Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) Sigma-Aldrich D2438-5X Biohazard: adequate safety instructions should be taken when handling
DPBS (10x), no calcium, no magnesium Gibco, Thermofisher scientific 14200067
EDTA 40 mM Gibco, Thermofisher scientific 15575-038
Embryonic stem-cell Fetal Bovine Serum Gibco, Thermofisher scientific 16141-079 Should be lot-tested for maximum ES cell viability and growth. Heat inactivate at 60°C and store at −20 °C for up to 1 year
Eppendorf Microcentrifuge 5415R Eppendorf AG  Z605212
Erythropoietin, human (hEPO), 250 U (2.5 µg) (1 mL) Roche 11120166001
ESGRO Recombinant Mouse LIF Protein (10⁷ units  1 mL) Milipore, Merck ESG1107
Falcon tubes 15 mL Greiner Bio-One 188271
Falcon tubes 50 mL Greiner Bio-0ne 227270
Filter tip ,clear ,sterile F.Gilson, P-200 Greiner Bio-One 739288
Filter tip ,clear ,sterile F.Gilson, P10 Greiner Bio-One 771288
Filter tip ,clear ,sterile F.Gilson, P1000 Greiner Bio-One 740288
FITC conjugated anti-α Smooth Muscle Actin (SMA) (clone 1A4) Sigma Aldrich F3777
FITC conjugated rat anti-mouse CD45 (clone 30-F11) Biolegend 103107
FITC Rat IgG2b, κ Isotype Ctrl Antibody (clone RTK4530) Biolegend 400605
Fluorscent mounting media DAKO S3023
Gascompress Cutisoft 45846
Gauze Cutisoft 10 x 10 cm Bsn Medical 45844_00
Gel blotting paper, Grade GB003 Whatman WHA10547922
Gelatin solution, type B Sigma-Aldrich G1393-100 ml
Glasgow's MEM (GMEM) Gibco, Thermofisher scientific 21710082
IHC Zinc Fixative BD Pharmigen 550523
IncuSafe CO2 Incubator PHCBi MCO-170AICUV-PE
Interleukin-6, human (hIL-6) Roche 11138600001
L-Glutamine 200 mM Gibco, Thermofisher scientific 25030-024
MEM Non-Essential Amino Acids Solution (100x) Gibco, Thermofisher scientific 11140035
Microscope slide box Kartell Labware 278
Microscope slide, Starfrost Knittel glass VS113711FKB.0
Mm_Cdh5_1_SG QuantiTect Primer Assay Qiagen QT00110467
Mm_Eng_1_SG QuantiTect Primer Assay Qiagen QT00148981
Mm_Epha4_1_SG QuantiTect Primer Assay Qiagen QT00093576
Mm_Ephb2_1_SG QuantiTect Primer Assay Qiagen QT00154014
Mm_Flt1_1_SG QuantiTect Primer Assay Qiagen QT00096292
Mm_Flt4_1_SG QuantiTect Primer Assay Qiagen QT00099064
Mm_Gapdh_3_SG QuantiTect Primer Assay Qiagen QT01658692
Mm_Kdr_1_SG QuantiTect Primer Assay Qiagen QT00097020
Mm_Notch1_1_SG QuantiTect Primer Qiagen QT00156982
Mm_Nr2f2_1_SG QuantiTect Primer Assay Qiagen QT00153104
Mm_Pecam1_1_SG QuantiTect Primer Qiagen QT01052044
Mm_Tek_1_SG QuantiTect Primer Assay Qiagen QT00114576
Mouse (ICR) Inactivated Embryonic Fibroblasts  (2 M) Gibco, Thermofisher scientific A24903 Store vials in liquid nitrogen (195.79 °C) indefinitely
Mouse embryonic stem cell line 7AC5/EYFP (ATCC SCRC-1033) ATCC SCRC-1033 Generated by Dr A Nagy, Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital, 600 University Ave, Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1X5, Canada. [Hadjantonakis, A. K., et al. Mechanisms of Development. 76 (1–2), 79–90 (1998)].
Mouse embryonic stem cell lines Acvrl1 +/- and Acvrl1 +/+ Generated at Leiden University Medical Centre [Thalgott, J.H. et al. Circulation. 138 (23), 2698–2712 (2018)].
Mouse embryonic stem cells line E14 Provided by M Letarte laboratory and generated according to Cho, S. K., et al. Blood. 98 (13), 3635–3642 (2001).
Mouse embryonic stem cells line R1 (ATCC SCRC-1011) ATCC SCRC-1011 Generated by Dr A Nagy, Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital, 600 University Ave, Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1X5, Canada. [Nagy, A., et al. Procedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 90 (18), 8424–8428 (1993)].
Mouse embryonic stem cells line Z/Red (strain 129/Ola) Generated by Dr A Nagy, Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital, 600 University Ave, Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1X5, Canada [Vintersten, K., et al. Genesis. 40 (4), 241–246 (2004)].
NanoDrop 1000 UV/VIS Spectrophotometer Thermo Fischer Scientific ND-1000
PD0325901 Selleckchem S1036
PDGF-BB, Recombinant Human Peprotech 100-14B
Pecam-1 antibody, Rat Anti-Mouse BD Biosciences 550274
Penicillin-streptomycin (10,000 U/mL) Gibco, Thermofisher scientific 15140122
Petri dish, PS, 94/16 mm, standard ,with vents, sterile Greiner Bio-One 633181
Pipetboy acu 2 Integra-Biosciences 155 019
Pipetman G Multichannel P8 x 200G Gilson F144072
Pipetman G Starter Kit, 4 Pipette Kit, P2G, P20G, P200G, P1000G Gilson F167360
Recombinant Human BMP-4 Protein R&D Systems 314-BP
RNeasy Plus mini Kit QIAGEN 74134
Serological pipettes, 10 mL Greiner Bio-One 607 180
Serological pipettes, 25 mL Greiner Bio-One 760 180
Serological pipettes, 5 mL Greiner Bio-One 606 180
Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) Merck 106498
Sodium pyruvate 100 mM Gibco, Thermofisher scientific 11360039
Test tubes 5ml round-bottom with cell-strainer cap Corning 352235
Thermal cycler, T100 Biorad 1861096
Triton X-100 (BioXtra) Sigma Aldrich T9284
Trypan Blue Solution, 0.4% Gibco, Thermofisher scientific 15250061
Trypsin (2.5%) Gibco, Thermofisher scientific 15090046
Vacuum Filter/Storage Bottle System, 500 mL Corning 430758
VEGFA165 , recombinant murine Peprotech 450-32
Water, Sterile Fresenius-Kabi B230531
Waterbath, Lab-Line Digital Thermo Fischer Scientific 18052A

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