Stem cell-based cardiac tissue engineering is a promising approach for regenerative therapy of the injured heart. At present, the small number of stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes that can be obtained using current culture and enrichment techniques represents one of the key limitations for the development of functional bioartificial cardiac tissue (BCT). We have addressed this problem by construction of a novel bioreactor with functional features of larger systems that enables the generation and in situ monitoring of miniaturized BCTs. BCTs were generated from rat cardiomyocytes to demonstrate advantages and usefulness of the bioreactor. Tissues showed spontaneous, synchronized contractions with cell orientation along the axis of strain. Cyclic stretch induced cardiomyocyte hypertrophy, demonstrated by a shift of myosin heavy chain expression from the alpha to beta isoform, together with elevated levels of atrial natriuretic factor. Stretch led to a moderate increase in systolic force (1.42 ± 0.09 mN vs. 0.96 ± 0.09 mN in controls), with significantly higher forces observed after β-adrenergic stimulation with noradrenalin (2.54 ± 0.11 mN). Combined mechanical and β-adrenergic stimulation had no synergistic effect. This study demonstrates for the first time that mechanical stimulation and direct real-time contraction force measurement can be combined into a single multimodal bioreactor system, including electrical stimulation of excitable tissue, perfusion of the culture chamber, and the possibility of (fluorescence) microscopic assessment during continuous cultivation. Thus, this bioreactor represents a valuable tool for monitoring tissue development and, ultimately, the optimization of stem cell-based tissue replacement strategies in regenerative medicine
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