Quantifying the effects of engineered nanomaterials on endothelial cell architecture and vascular barrier integrity using a cell pair model†
Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) are increasingly used in consumer products due to their unique physicochemical properties, but the specific hazards they pose to the structural and functional integrity of endothelial barriers remain elusive. When assessing the effects of ENMs on vascular barrier function, endothelial cell monolayers are commonly used as in vitro models. Monolayer models, however, do not offer a granular understanding of how the structure–function relationships between endothelial cells and tissues are disrupted due to ENM exposure. To address this issue, we developed a micropatterned endothelial cell pair model to quantitatively evaluate the effects of 10 ENMs (8 metal/metal oxides and 2 organic ENMs) on multiple cellular parameters and determine how these parameters correlate to changes in vascular barrier function. This minimalistic approach showed concerted changes in endothelial cell morphology, intercellular junction formation, and cytoskeletal organization due to ENM exposure, which were then quantified and compared to unexposed pairs using a “similarity scoring” method. Using the cell pair model, this study revealed dose-dependent changes in actin organization and adherens junction formation following exposure to representative ENMs (Ag, TiO2 and cellulose nanocrystals), which exhibited trends that correlate with changes in tissue permeability measured using an endothelial monolayer assay. Together, these results demonstrate that we can quantitatively evaluate changes in endothelial architecture emergent from nucleo-cytoskeletal network remodeling using micropatterned cell pairs. The endothelial pair model therefore presents potential applicability as a standardized assay for systematically screening ENMs and other test agents for their cellular-level structural effects on vascular barriers.