The epicardium constitutes an untapped reservoir for cardiac regeneration. Upon heart injury, the adult epicardium re-activates, leading to epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), migration and differentiation. While interesting mechanistic and therapeutic findings arose from lower vertebrates and rodent models, the introduction of an experimental system representative of large mammals would undoubtedly facilitate translational advancements. Here, we apply innovative protocols to obtain living 3D organotypic epicardial slices from porcine hearts, encompassing the epicardial/myocardial interface. In culture, our slices preserve the in vivo architecture and functionality, presenting a continuous epicardium overlaying a healthy and connected myocardium. Upon thymosin β4 treatment of the slices, the epicardial cells become activated upregulating epicardial and EMT genes, resulting in epicardial cell mobilization and differentiation into epicardial-derived mesenchymal cells. Our 3D organotypic model enables to investigate the reparative potential of the adult epicardium, offering an advanced tool to explore ex vivo the complex 3D interactions occurring within the native heart environment
Dengue is the most prevalent arthropod-borne viral disease affecting humans, with severe dengue typified by potentially fatal microvascular leakage and hypovolaemic shock. Blood vessels of the microvasculature are composed of a tubular structure of endothelial cells ensheathed by perivascular cells (pericytes). Pericytes support endothelial cell barrier formation and maintenance through paracrine and contact-mediated signalling, and are critical to microvascular integrity. Pericyte dysfunction has been linked to vascular leakage in noncommunicable pathologies such as diabetic retinopathy, but has never been linked to infection-related vascular leakage. Dengue vascular leakage has been shown to result in part from the direct action of the secreted dengue virus (DENV) non-structural protein NS1 on endothelial cells. Using primary human vascular cells, we show here that NS1 also causes pericyte dysfunction, and that NS1-induced endothelial hyperpermeability is more pronounced in the presence of pericytes. Notably, NS1 specifically disrupted the ability of pericytes to support endothelial cell function in a 3D microvascular assay, with no effect on pericyte viability or physiology. These effects are mediated at least in part through contact-independent paracrine signals involved in endothelial barrier maintenance by pericytes. We therefore identify a role for pericytes in amplifying NS1-induced microvascular hyperpermeability in severe dengue, and thus show that pericytes can play a critical role in the aetiology of an infectious vascular leakage syndrome. These findings open new avenues of research for the development of drugs and diagnostic assays for combating infection-induced vascular leakage, such as severe dengue.