AIM: Clinical application of tissue engineered heart valves requires precise control of the tissue culture process to predict tissue composition and mechanical properties prior to implantation, and to understand the variation in tissue outcome. To this end we investigated cellular phenotype and tissue properties of ovine (n = 8) and human (n = 7) tissue engineered heart valve constructs to quantify variations in tissue outcome within species, study the differences between species and determine possible indicators of tissue outcome. MATERIALS & METHODS: Tissue constructs consisted of polyglycolic acid/poly-4-hydroxybutyrate scaffolds, seeded with myofibroblasts obtained from the jugular vein (sheep) or the saphenous vein (from humans undergoing cardiac surgery) and cultured under static conditions. Prior to seeding, protein expression of a-smooth muscle actin, vimentin, nonmuscle myosin heavy chain and heat shock protein 47 were determined to identify differences at an early stage of the tissue engineering process. After 4 weeks of culture, tissue composition and mechanical properties were quantified as indicators of tissue outcome. RESULTS: After 4 weeks of tissue culture, tissue properties of all ovine constructs were comparable, while there was a larger variation in the properties of the human constructs, especially the elastic modulus and collagen content. In addition, ovine constructs differed in composition from the human constructs. An increased number of a-smooth muscle actin-positive cells before seeding was correlated with the collagen content in the engineered heart valve constructs. Moreover, tissue stiffness increased with increasing collagen content. CONCLUSION: The results suggest that the culture process of ovine tissues can be controlled, whereas the mechanical properties, and hence functionality, of tissues originating from human material are more difficult to control. On-line evaluation of tissue properties during culture or more early cellular markers to predict the properties of autologous tissues cultured for individual patients are, therefore, of utmost importance for future clinical application of autologous heart valve tissue engineering. As an example, this study shows that a-smooth muscle actin might be an indicator of tissue mechanical properties.