Cultured bovine corneal endothelial cells can be grown in three ways: on plastic, on plastic with fibroblast growth factor present in the media, and on their own preformed extracellular matrix. On plastic alone, cells grow in a disorderly fashion and secrete matrix on all cell surfaces. Cells grown on plastic with growth factor or on a matrix, at confluence, have matrix deposition only on the basal surface of the cells and an orderly contact-inhibited pattern of growth. This correlates with the polarity they demonstrate histologically. This cell-matrix pattern resembles the pattern observed in vivo. Both the soluble growth factor and the extracellular matrix are able to modulate the pattern of collagen synthesis and deposition by cells, but they do so in two entirely different ways. In cells grown on the extracellular matrix, total collagen synthesis is lower but more efficient. Collagen is deposited primarily into the cell layer even at the early sparse stage of culture. In cells grown on plastic with growth factor in the media, collagen is initially secreted into the media and does not become incorporated into the matrix. The deposition of collagen on the basal surface of cell occurs only late in the culture, and is achieved by increments in a stepwise manner. The in vivo-like pattern is not manifest until confluence has been reached. Thus, the extracellular matrix functions not only as a structural support, but is also instructional to the cells plated on it. In this case, the matrix regulates the level of collagen synthesis in the cells and modulates the pattern of collagen deposition. Soluble growth factors may act in part by enhancing a cell's ability to elaborate an appropriate matrix pattern necessary for the cell's own growth and accurate function.

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