Johannes Bargehr 1 , 2 , Lay Ping Ong 1 , 2 , Maria Colzani 1 , 2 , Hongorzul Davaapil 1 , 2 , Peter Hofsteen 3 , Shiv Bhandari 3 , Laure Gambardella 1 , 2 , Nicolas Le Novère 4 , Dharini Iyer 1 , 2 , Fotios Sampaziotis 1 , Florian Weinberger 3 , Alessandro Bertero 3 , Andrea Leonard 3 , William G Bernard 1 , 2 , Amy Martinson 3 , Nichola Figg 2 , Michael Regnier 5 , Martin R Bennett 2 , Charles E Murry 3 , 5 , 6 , Sanjay Sinha 1 , 2
02 August 2019
The epicardium and its derivatives provide trophic and structural support for the developing and adult heart. Here we tested the ability of human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-derived epicardium to augment the structure and function of engineered heart tissue (EHT) in vitro and to improve efficacy of hESC-cardiomyocyte grafts in infarcted athymic rat hearts. Epicardial cells markedly enhanced the contractility, myofibril structure and calcium handling of human EHTs, while reducing passive stiffness compared to mesenchymal stromal cells. Transplanted epicardial cells formed persistent fibroblast grafts in infarcted hearts. Co-transplantation of hESC-derived epicardial cells and cardiomyocytes doubled graft cardiomyocyte proliferation rates in vivo, resulting in 2.6-fold greater cardiac graft size and simultaneously augmenting graft and host vascularization. Notably, co-transplantation improved systolic function compared with hearts receiving either cardiomyocytes alone, epicardial cells alone or vehicle. The ability of epicardial cells to enhance cardiac graft size and function make them a promising adjuvant therapeutic for cardiac repair.