A critical need in both tissue-engineering applications and basic cell culture studies is the development of synthetic extracellular matrices (ECMs) and experimental systems that reconstitute three-dimensional cell-cell interactions and control tissue formation in vitro and in vivo. We have fabricated synthetic ECMs in the form of fiber-based fabrics, highly porous sponges, and hydrogels from biodegradable polymers (e.g., polyglycolic acid) and tested their ability to regulate tissue formation. Both cell seeding onto these synthetic ECMs and subsequent culture conditions can be varied to control initial cell-cell interactions and subsequent cell growth and tissue development. Three-dimensional tissues composed of cells of interest, matrix produced by these cells, and the synthetic ECM (until it degrades) can be created with these systems. For example, smooth muscle cells can be grown on polyglycolic acid fiber-based synthetic ECMs to produce tissues with cell densities in excess of 108 cells/mL. These tissues contain extensive elastin and collagen, and the smooth muscle cells within the tissue express the contractile phenotype (e.g., α-actin staining). Similar approaches can be used to grow a number of other tissues (e.g., dental pulp) that resemble the native tissue. These engineered tissues may provide novel experimental systems to study the role of three-dimensional intercellular signaling in tissue development and may also find clinical application as replacements to lost or damaged tissues.