Hydrogels are hydrophilic crosslinked polymers that provide a three-dimensional microenvironment with tissue-like elasticity and high permeability for culturing therapeutically relevant cells or tissues. Hydrogels prepared from poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) derivatives are increasingly used for a variety of tissue engineering applications, in part due to their tunable and cytocompatible properties. In this protocol, we utilized thiol-ene step-growth photopolymerizations to fabricate PEG-peptide hydrogels for encapsulating pancreatic MIN6 b-cells. The gels were formed by 4-arm PEG-norbornene (PEG4NB) macromer and a chymotrypsin-sensitive peptide crosslinker (CGGYC). The hydrophilic and non-fouling nature of PEG offers a cytocompatible microenvironment for cell survival and proliferation in 3D, while the use of chymotrypsin-sensitive peptide sequence (CGGY↓C, arrow indicates enzyme cleavage site, while terminal cysteine residues were added for thiol-ene crosslinking) permits rapid recovery of cell constructs forming within the hydrogel. The following protocol elaborates techniques for: (1) Encapsulation of MIN6 β-cells in thiol-ene hydrogels; (2) Qualitative and quantitative cell viability assays to determine cell survival and proliferation; (3) Recovery of cell spheroids using chymotrypsin-mediated gel erosion; and (4) Structural and functional analysis of the recovered spheroids.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
Alginate Hydrogels for Three-Dimensional Organ Culture of Ovaries and Oviducts
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women and has a 63% mortality rate in the United States1
. The cell type of origin for ovarian cancers is still in question and might be either the ovarian surface epithelium (OSE) or the distal epithelium of the fallopian tube fimbriae2,3
. Culturing the normal cells as a primary culture in vitro will enable scientists to model specific changes that might lead to ovarian cancer in the distinct epithelium, thereby definitively determining the cell type of origin. This will allow development of more accurate biomarkers, animal models with tissue-specific gene changes, and better prevention strategies targeted to this disease.
Maintaining normal cells in alginate hydrogels promotes short term in vitro culture of cells in their three-dimensional context and permits introduction of plasmid DNA, siRNA, and small molecules. By culturing organs in pieces that are derived from strategic cuts using a scalpel, several cultures from a single organ can be generated, increasing the number of experiments from a single animal. These cuts model aspects of ovulation leading to proliferation of the OSE, which is associated with ovarian cancer formation. Cell types such as the OSE that do not grow well on plastic surfaces can be cultured using this method and facilitate investigation into normal cellular processes or the earliest events in cancer formation4
Alginate hydrogels can be used to support the growth of many types of tissues5
. Alginate is a linear polysaccharide composed of repeating units of β-D-mannuronic acid and α-L-guluronic acid that can be crosslinked with calcium ions, resulting in a gentle gelling action that does not damage tissues6,7
. Like other three-dimensional cell culture matrices such as Matrigel, alginate provides mechanical support for tissues; however, proteins are not reactive with the alginate matrix, and therefore alginate functions as a synthetic extracellular matrix that does not initiate cell signaling5
. The alginate hydrogel floats in standard cell culture medium and supports the architecture of the tissue growth in vitro
A method is presented for the preparation, separation, and embedding of ovarian and oviductal organ pieces into alginate hydrogels, which can be maintained in culture for up to two weeks. The enzymatic release of cells for analysis of proteins and RNA samples from the organ culture is also described. Finally, the growth of primary cell types is possible without genetic immortalization from mice and permits investigators to use knockout and transgenic mice.
Bioengineering, Issue 52, alginate hydrogel, ovarian organ culture, oviductal organ culture, three-dimensional, primary cell
Human Cartilage Tissue Fabrication Using Three-dimensional Inkjet Printing Technology
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Stemorgan Inc., Technical University of Munich, Wuhan University, The Scripps Research Institute, Tokyo University of Science.
Bioprinting, which is based on thermal inkjet printing, is one of the most attractive enabling technologies in the field of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. With digital control cells, scaffolds, and growth factors can be precisely deposited to the desired two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) locations rapidly. Therefore, this technology is an ideal approach to fabricate tissues mimicking their native anatomic structures. In order to engineer cartilage with native zonal organization, extracellular matrix composition (ECM), and mechanical properties, we developed a bioprinting platform using a commercial inkjet printer with simultaneous photopolymerization capable for 3D cartilage tissue engineering. Human chondrocytes suspended in poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA) were printed for 3D neocartilage construction via layer-by-layer assembly. The printed cells were fixed at their original deposited positions, supported by the surrounding scaffold in simultaneous photopolymerization. The mechanical properties of the printed tissue were similar to the native cartilage. Compared to conventional tissue fabrication, which requires longer UV exposure, the viability of the printed cells with simultaneous photopolymerization was significantly higher. Printed neocartilage demonstrated excellent glycosaminoglycan (GAG) and collagen type II production, which was consistent with gene expression. Therefore, this platform is ideal for accurate cell distribution and arrangement for anatomic tissue engineering.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, cartilage, inkjet printing, chondrocytes, hydrogel, photopolymerization, tissue engineering
Quantification of Breast Cancer Cell Invasiveness Using a Three-dimensional (3D) Model
Institutions: University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario, Lawson Health Research Institute.
It is now well known that the cellular and tissue microenvironment are critical regulators influencing tumor initiation and progression. Moreover, the extracellular matrix (ECM) has been demonstrated to be a critical regulator of cell behavior in culture and homeostasis in vivo
. The current approach of culturing cells on two-dimensional (2D), plastic surfaces results in the disturbance and loss of complex interactions between cells and their microenvironment. Through the use of three-dimensional (3D) culture assays, the conditions for cell-microenvironment interaction are established resembling the in vivo
microenvironment. This article provides a detailed methodology to grow breast cancer cells in a 3D basement membrane protein matrix, exemplifying the potential of 3D culture in the assessment of cell invasion into the surrounding environment. In addition, we discuss how these 3D assays have the potential to examine the loss of signaling molecules that regulate epithelial morphology by immunostaining procedures. These studies aid to identify important mechanistic details into the processes regulating invasion, required for the spread of breast cancer.
Medicine, Issue 88, Breast cancer, cell invasion, extracellular matrix (ECM), three-dimensional (3D) cultures, immunocytochemistry, Matrigel, basement membrane matrix
Profiling of Estrogen-regulated MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer Cells
Institutions: University of Houston.
Estrogen plays vital roles in mammary gland development and breast cancer progression. It mediates its function by binding to and activating the estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα, and ERβ. ERα is frequently upregulated in breast cancer and drives the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The ERs function as transcription factors and regulate gene expression. Whereas ERα's regulation of protein-coding genes is well established, its regulation of noncoding microRNA (miRNA) is less explored. miRNAs play a major role in the post-transcriptional regulation of genes, inhibiting their translation or degrading their mRNA. miRNAs can function as oncogenes or tumor suppressors and are also promising biomarkers. Among the miRNA assays available, microarray and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) have been extensively used to detect and quantify miRNA levels. To identify miRNAs regulated by estrogen signaling in breast cancer, their expression in ERα-positive breast cancer cell lines were compared before and after estrogen-activation using both the µParaflo-microfluidic microarrays and Dual Labeled Probes-low density arrays. Results were validated using specific qPCR assays, applying both Cyanine dye-based and Dual Labeled Probes-based chemistry. Furthermore, a time-point assay was used to identify regulations over time. Advantages of the miRNA assay approach used in this study is that it enables a fast screening of mature miRNA regulations in numerous samples, even with limited sample amounts. The layout, including the specific conditions for cell culture and estrogen treatment, biological and technical replicates, and large-scale screening followed by in-depth confirmations using separate techniques, ensures a robust detection of miRNA regulations, and eliminates false positives and other artifacts. However, mutated or unknown miRNAs, or regulations at the primary and precursor transcript level, will not be detected. The method presented here represents a thorough investigation of estrogen-mediated miRNA regulation.
Medicine, Issue 84, breast cancer, microRNA, estrogen, estrogen receptor, microarray, qPCR
Three Dimensional Cultures: A Tool To Study Normal Acinar Architecture vs. Malignant Transformation Of Breast Cells
Institutions: University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Invasive breast carcinomas are a group of malignant epithelial tumors characterized by the invasion of adjacent tissues and propensity to metastasize. The interplay of signals between cancer cells and their microenvironment exerts a powerful influence on breast cancer growth and biological behavior1
. However, most of these signals from the extracellular matrix are lost or their relevance is understudied when cells are grown in two dimensional culture (2D) as a monolayer. In recent years, three dimensional (3D) culture on a reconstituted basement membrane has emerged as a method of choice to recapitulate the tissue architecture of benign and malignant breast cells. Cells grown in 3D retain the important cues from the extracellular matrix and provide a physiologically relevant ex vivo
. Of note, there is growing evidence suggesting that cells behave differently when grown in 3D as compared to 2D4
. 3D culture can be effectively used as a means to differentiate the malignant phenotype from the benign breast phenotype and for underpinning the cellular and molecular signaling involved3
. One of the distinguishing characteristics of benign epithelial cells is that they are polarized so that the apical cytoplasm is towards the lumen and the basal cytoplasm rests on the basement membrane. This apico-basal polarity is lost in invasive breast carcinomas, which are characterized by cellular disorganization and formation of anastomosing and branching tubules that haphazardly infiltrates the surrounding stroma. These histopathological differences between benign gland and invasive carcinoma can be reproduced in 3D6,7
. Using the appropriate read-outs like the quantitation of single round acinar structures, or differential expression of validated molecular markers for cell proliferation, polarity and apoptosis in combination with other molecular and cell biology techniques, 3D culture can provide an important tool to better understand the cellular changes during malignant transformation and for delineating the responsible signaling.
Medicine, Issue 86, pathological conditions, signs and symptoms, neoplasms, three dimensional cultures, Matrigel, breast cells, malignant phenotype, signaling
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Non-enzymatic, Serum-free Tissue Culture of Pre-invasive Breast Lesions for Spontaneous Generation of Mammospheres
Institutions: George Mason University, Virginia Surgery Associates.
Breast ductal carcinoma in situ
(DCIS), by definition, is proliferation of neoplastic epithelial cells within the confines of the breast duct, without breaching the collagenous basement membrane. While DCIS is a non-obligate precursor to invasive breast cancers, the molecular mechanisms and cell populations that permit progression to invasive cancer are not fully known. To determine if progenitor cells capable of invasion existed within the DCIS cell population, we developed a methodology for collecting and culturing sterile human breast tissue at the time of surgery, without enzymatic disruption of tissue.
Sterile breast tissue containing ductal segments is harvested from surgically excised breast tissue following routine pathological examination. Tissue containing DCIS is placed in nutrient rich, antibiotic-containing, serum free medium, and transported to the tissue culture laboratory. The breast tissue is further dissected to isolate the calcified areas. Multiple breast tissue pieces (organoids) are placed in a minimal volume of serum free medium in a flask with a removable lid and cultured in a humidified CO2
incubator. Epithelial and fibroblast cell populations emerge from the organoid after 10 - 14 days. Mammospheres spontaneously form on and around the epithelial cell monolayer. Specific cell populations can be harvested directly from the flask without disrupting neighboring cells. Our non-enzymatic tissue culture system reliably reveals cytogenetically abnormal, invasive progenitor cells from fresh human DCIS lesions.
Cancer Biology, Issue 93, Breast, ductal carcinoma in situ, epidermal growth factor, mammosphere, organoid, pre-invasive, primary cell culture, serum-free, spheroid
Therapeutic Gene Delivery and Transfection in Human Pancreatic Cancer Cells using Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor-targeted Gelatin Nanoparticles
Institutions: Northeastern University.
More than 32,000 patients are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States per year and the disease is associated with very high mortality 1
. Urgent need exists to develop novel clinically-translatable therapeutic strategies that can improve on the dismal survival statistics of pancreatic cancer patients. Although gene therapy in cancer has shown a tremendous promise, the major challenge is in the development of safe and effective delivery system, which can lead to sustained transgene expression.
Gelatin is one of the most versatile natural biopolymer, widely used in food and pharmaceutical products. Previous studies from our laboratory have shown that type B gelatin could physical encapsulate DNA, which preserved the supercoiled structure of the plasmid and improved transfection efficiency upon intracellular delivery. By thiolation of gelatin, the sulfhydryl groups could be introduced into the polymer and would form disulfide bond within nanoparticles, which stabilizes the whole complex and once disulfide bond is broken due to the presence of glutathione in cytosol, payload would be released 2-5
. Poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG)-modified GENS, when administered into the systemic circulation, provides long-circulation times and preferentially targets to the tumor mass due to the hyper-permeability of the neovasculature by the enhanced permeability and retention
. Studies have shown over-expression of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) on Panc-1 human pancreatic adenocarcinoma cells 7
. In order to actively target pancreatic cancer cell line, EGFR specific peptide was conjugated on the particle surface through a PEG spacer.8
Most anti-tumor gene therapies are focused on administration of the tumor suppressor genes, such as wild-type p53 (wt-p53), to restore the pro-apoptotic function in the cells 9
. The p53 mechanism functions as a critical signaling pathway in cell growth, which regulates apoptosis, cell cycle arrest, metabolism and other processes 10
. In pancreatic cancer, most cells have mutations in p53 protein, causing the loss of apoptotic activity. With the introduction of wt-p53, the apoptosis could be repaired and further triggers cell death in cancer cells 11
Based on the above rationale, we have designed EGFR targeting peptide-modified thiolated gelatin nanoparticles for wt-p53 gene delivery and evaluated delivery efficiency and transfection in Panc-1 cells.
Bioengineering, Issue 59, Gelatin Nanoparticle, Gene Therapy, Targeted Delivery, Pancreatic Cancer, Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor, EGFR
Experimental Generation of Carcinoma-Associated Fibroblasts (CAFs) from Human Mammary Fibroblasts
Institutions: University of Manchester, Juntendo University.
Carcinomas are complex tissues comprised of neoplastic cells and a non-cancerous compartment referred to as the 'stroma'. The stroma consists of extracellular matrix (ECM) and a variety of mesenchymal cells, including fibroblasts, myofibroblasts, endothelial cells, pericytes and leukocytes 1-3
The tumour-associated stroma is responsive to substantial paracrine signals released by neighbouring carcinoma cells. During the disease process, the stroma often becomes populated by carcinoma-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) including large numbers of myofibroblasts. These cells have previously been extracted from many different types of human carcinomas for their in vitro
culture. A subpopulation of CAFs is distinguishable through their up-regulation of α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) expression4,5
. These cells are a hallmark of 'activated fibroblasts' that share similar properties with myofibroblasts commonly observed in injured and fibrotic tissues 6
. The presence of this myofibroblastic CAF subset is highly related to high-grade malignancies and associated with poor prognoses in patients.
Many laboratories, including our own, have shown that CAFs, when injected with carcinoma cells into immunodeficient mice, are capable of substantially promoting tumourigenesis 7-10
. CAFs prepared from carcinoma patients, however, frequently undergo senescence during propagation in culture limiting the extensiveness of their use throughout ongoing experimentation. To overcome this difficulty, we developed a novel technique to experimentally generate immortalised human mammary CAF cell lines (exp-CAFs) from human mammary fibroblasts, using a coimplantation breast tumour xenograft model.
In order to generate exp-CAFs, parental human mammary fibroblasts, obtained from the reduction mammoplasty tissue, were first immortalised with hTERT, the catalytic subunit of the telomerase holoenzyme, and engineered to express GFP and a puromycin resistance gene. These cells were coimplanted with MCF-7 human breast carcinoma cells expressing an activated ras
oncogene (MCF-7-ras cells) into a mouse xenograft. After a period of incubation in vivo
, the initially injected human mammary fibroblasts were extracted from the tumour xenografts on the basis of their puromycin resistance 11
We observed that the resident human mammary fibroblasts have differentiated, adopting a myofibroblastic phenotype and acquired tumour-promoting properties during the course of tumour progression. Importantly, these cells, defined as exp-CAFs, closely mimic the tumour-promoting myofibroblastic phenotype of CAFs isolated from breast carcinomas dissected from patients. Our tumour xenograft-derived exp-CAFs therefore provide an effective model to study the biology of CAFs in human breast carcinomas. The described protocol may also be extended for generating and characterising various CAF populations derived from other types of human carcinomas.
Medicine, Issue 56, cancer, stromal myofibroblasts, experimentally generated carcinoma-associated fibroblasts (exp-CAFs), fibroblast, human mammary carcinomas, tumour xenografts
Determining Optimal Cytotoxic Activity of Human Her2neu Specific CD8 T cells by Comparing the Cr51 Release Assay to the xCELLigence System
Institutions: College of Medicine, Mayo Clinic.
Cytotoxic CD8 T cells constitute a subgroup of T cells that are capable of inducing the death of infected or malignant host cells1
. These cells express a specialized receptor, called the T cell receptor (TCR), which can recognize a specific antigenic peptide bound to HLA class I molecules2
. Engagement of infected cells or tumor cells through their HLA class I molecule results in production of lytic molecules such as granzymes and perforin resulting in target cell death. While it is useful to determine frequencies of antigen-specific CD8 T cells using assays such as the ELIspot or flow cytometry, it is also helpful to ascertain the strength of CD8 T cell responses using cytotoxicity assays3
. The most recognizable assay for assessing cytotoxic function is the Chromium Release Assay (CRA), which is considered a standard assay 4
. The CRA has several limitations, including exposure of cells to gamma radiation, lack of reproducibility, and a requirement for large numbers of cells. Over the past decade, there has been interest in adopting new strategies to overcome these limitations. Newer approaches include those that measure caspase
, BLT esterase activity 5
and surface expression of CD107 6
. The impedance-based assay, using the Roche xCelligence system, was examined in the present paper for its potential as an alternative to the CRA. Impedance or opposition to an electric current occurs when adherent tumor cells bind to electrode plates. Tumor cells detach following killing and electrical impedance is reduced which can be measured by the xCelligence system. The ability to adapt the impedance-based approach to assess cell-mediated killing rests on the observation that T cells do not adhere tightly to most surfaces and do not appear to have much impact on impedance thus diminishing any concern of direct interference of the T cells with the measurement. Results show that the impedance-based assay can detect changes in the levels of antigen-specific cytotoxic CD8 T cells with increased sensitivity relative to the standard CRA. Based on these results, impedance-based approaches may be good alternatives to CRAs or other approaches that aim to measure cytotoxic CD8 T cell functionality.
Immunology, Issue 66, Medicine, Cancer Biology, vaccine, immunity, adoptive T cell therapy, lymphocyte, CD8, T cells
Analysis of Cell Migration within a Three-dimensional Collagen Matrix
Institutions: Witten/Herdecke University.
The ability to migrate is a hallmark of various cell types and plays a crucial role in several physiological processes, including embryonic development, wound healing, and immune responses. However, cell migration is also a key mechanism in cancer enabling these cancer cells to detach from the primary tumor to start metastatic spreading. Within the past years various cell migration assays have been developed to analyze the migratory behavior of different cell types. Because the locomotory behavior of cells markedly differs between a two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) environment it can be assumed that the analysis of the migration of cells that are embedded within a 3D environment would yield in more significant cell migration data. The advantage of the described 3D collagen matrix migration assay is that cells are embedded within a physiological 3D network of collagen fibers representing the major component of the extracellular matrix. Due to time-lapse video microscopy real cell migration is measured allowing the determination of several migration parameters as well as their alterations in response to pro-migratory factors or inhibitors. Various cell types could be analyzed using this technique, including lymphocytes/leukocytes, stem cells, and tumor cells. Likewise, also cell clusters or spheroids could be embedded within the collagen matrix concomitant with analysis of the emigration of single cells from the cell cluster/ spheroid into the collagen lattice. We conclude that the 3D collagen matrix migration assay is a versatile method to analyze the migration of cells within a physiological-like 3D environment.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cell migration, 3D collagen matrix, cell tracking
Mechanical Stimulation of Chondrocyte-agarose Hydrogels
Institutions: Queen's University , Queen's University .
Articular cartilage suffers from a limited repair capacity when damaged by mechanical insult or degraded by disease, such as osteoarthritis. To remedy this deficiency, several medical interventions have been developed. One such method is to resurface the damaged area with tissue-engineered cartilage; however, the engineered tissue typically lacks the biochemical properties and durability of native cartilage, questioning its long-term survivability. This limits the application of cartilage tissue engineering to the repair of small focal defects, relying on the surrounding tissue to protect the implanted material. To improve the properties of the developed tissue, mechanical stimulation is a popular method utilized to enhance the synthesis of cartilaginous extracellular matrix as well as the resultant mechanical properties of the engineered tissue. Mechanical stimulation applies forces to the tissue constructs analogous to those experienced in vivo
. This is based on the premise that the mechanical environment, in part, regulates the development and maintenance of native tissue1,2
. The most commonly applied form of mechanical stimulation in cartilage tissue engineering is dynamic compression at physiologic strains of approximately 5-20% at a frequency of 1 Hz1,3
. Several studies have investigated the effects of dynamic compression and have shown it to have a positive effect on chondrocyte metabolism and biosynthesis, ultimately affecting the functional properties of the developed tissue4-8
. In this paper, we illustrate the method to mechanically stimulate chondrocyte-agarose hydrogel constructs under dynamic compression and analyze changes in biosynthesis through biochemical and radioisotope assays. This method can also be readily modified to assess any potentially induced changes in cellular response as a result of mechanical stimuli.
Cellular Biology, Issue 68, Tissue Engineering, Mechanical Stimulation, Chondrocytes, Agarose, Cartilage
Cellular Encapsulation in 3D Hydrogels for Tissue Engineering
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania , University of Pennsylvania-School of Medicine.
The 3D encapsulation of cells within hydrogels represents an increasingly important and popular technique for culturing cells and towards the development of constructs for tissue engineering. This environment better mimics what cells observe in vivo,
compared to standard tissue culture, due to the tissue-like properties and 3D environment. Synthetic polymeric hydrogels are water-swollen networks that can be designed to be stable or to degrade through hydrolysis or proteolysis as new tissue is deposited by encapsulated cells. A wide variety of polymers have been explored for these applications, such as poly(ethylene glycol) and hyaluronic acid. Most commonly, the polymer is functionalized with reactive groups such as methacrylates or acrylates capable of undergoing crosslinking through various mechanisms. In the past decade, much progress has been made in engineering these microenvironments - e.g., via the physical or pendant covalent incorporation of biochemical cues - to improve viability and direct cellular phenotype, including the differentiation of encapsulated stem cells (Burdick et al.
The following methods for the 3D encapsulation of cells have been optimized in our and other laboratories to maximize cytocompatibility and minimize the number of hydrogel processing steps. In the following protocols (see Figure 1 for an illustration of the procedure), it is assumed that functionalized polymers capable of undergoing crosslinking are already in hand; excellent reviews of polymer chemistry as applied to the field of tissue engineering may be found elsewhere (Burdick et al.
) and these methods are compatible with a range of polymer types. Further, the Michael-type addition (see Lutolf et al.
) and light-initiated free radical (see Elisseeff et al.
) mechanisms focused on here constitute only a small portion of the reported crosslinking techniques. Mixed mode crosslinking, in which a portion of reactive groups is first consumed by addition crosslinking and followed by a radical mechanism, is another commonly used and powerful paradigm for directing the phenotype of encapsulated cells (Khetan et al.
, Salinas et al.
Cellular Biology, Issue 32, Hydrogel, Tissue Engineering, Biomaterials, Encapsulation, Scaffolds, Bioengineering, Cell Culture, Polymers
Fabrication of Micropatterned Hydrogels for Neural Culture Systems using Dynamic Mask Projection Photolithography
Institutions: Tulane University.
Increasingly, patterned cell culture environments are becoming a relevant technique to study cellular characteristics, and many researchers believe in the need for 3D environments to represent in vitro
experiments which better mimic in vivo
. Studies in fields such as cancer research 4
, neural engineering 5
, cardiac physiology 6
, and cell-matrix interaction7,8
have shown cell behavior differs substantially between traditional monolayer cultures and 3D constructs.
Hydrogels are used as 3D environments because of their variety, versatility and ability to tailor molecular composition through functionalization 9-12
. Numerous techniques exist for creation of constructs as cell-supportive matrices, including electrospinning13
, elastomer stamps14
, inkjet printing15
, additive photopatterning16
, static photomask projection-lithography17
, and dynamic mask microstereolithography18
. Unfortunately, these methods involve multiple production steps and/or equipment not readily adaptable to conventional cell and tissue culture methods. The technique employed in this protocol adapts the latter two methods, using a digital micromirror device (DMD) to create dynamic photomasks for crosslinking geometrically specific poly-(ethylene glycol) (PEG) hydrogels, induced through UV initiated free radical polymerization. The resulting "2.5D" structures provide a constrained 3D environment for neural growth. We employ a dual-hydrogel approach, where PEG serves as a cell-restrictive region supplying structure to an otherwise shapeless but cell-permissive self-assembling gel made from either Puramatrix or agarose. The process is a quick simple one step fabrication which is highly reproducible and easily adapted for use with conventional cell culture methods and substrates.
Whole tissue explants, such as embryonic dorsal root ganglia (DRG), can be incorporated into the dual hydrogel constructs for experimental assays such as neurite outgrowth. Additionally, dissociated cells can be encapsulated in the photocrosslinkable or self polymerizing hydrogel, or selectively adhered to the permeable support membrane using cell-restrictive photopatterning. Using the DMD, we created hydrogel constructs up to ~1mm thick, but thin film (<200 μm) PEG structures were limited by oxygen quenching of the free radical polymerization reaction. We subsequently developed a technique utilizing a layer of oil above the polymerization liquid which allowed thin PEG structure polymerization.
In this protocol, we describe the expeditious creation of 3D hydrogel systems for production of microfabricated neural cell and tissue cultures. The dual hydrogel constructs demonstrated herein represent versatile in vitro
models that may prove useful for studies in neuroscience involving cell survival, migration, and/or neurite growth and guidance. Moreover, as the protocol can work for many types of hydrogels and cells, the potential applications are both varied and vast.
Bioengineering, Issue 48, Micropatterning, Photopolymerization, Hydrogels, Cell Culture, Tissue Engineering, Neural Engineering
Cultivation of Human Neural Progenitor Cells in a 3-dimensional Self-assembling Peptide Hydrogel
Institutions: University of Rostock.
The influence of 3-dimensional (3D) scaffolds on growth, proliferation and finally neuronal differentiation is of great interest in order to find new methods for cell-based and standardised therapies in neurological disorders or neurodegenerative diseases. 3D structures are expected to provide an environment much closer to the in vivo
situation than 2D cultures. In the context of regenerative medicine, the combination of biomaterial scaffolds with neural stem and progenitor cells holds great promise as a therapeutic tool.1-5
Culture systems emulating a three dimensional environment have been shown to influence proliferation and differentiation in different types of stem and progenitor cells. Herein, the formation and functionalisation of the 3D-microenviroment is important to determine the survival and fate of the embedded cells.6-8
Here we used PuraMatrix9,10
(RADA16, PM), a peptide based hydrogel scaffold, which is well described and used to study the influence of a 3D-environment on different cell types.7,11-14
PuraMatrix can be customised easily and the synthetic fabrication of the nano-fibers provides a 3D-culture system of high reliability, which is in addition xeno-free.
Recently we have studied the influence of the PM-concentration on the formation of the scaffold.13
In this study the used concentrations of PM had a direct impact on the formation of the 3D-structure, which was demonstrated by atomic force microscopy. A subsequent analysis of the survival and differentiation of the hNPCs revealed an influence of the used concentrations of PM on the fate of the embedded cells. However, the analysis of survival or neuronal differentiation by means of immunofluorescence techniques posses some hurdles. To gain reliable data, one has to determine the total number of cells within a matrix to obtain the relative number of e.g. neuronal cells marked by βIII-tubulin. This prerequisites a technique to analyse the scaffolds in all 3-dimensions by a confocal microscope or a comparable technique like fluorescence microscopes able to take z-stacks of the specimen. Furthermore this kind of analysis is extremely time consuming.
Here we demonstrate a method to release cells from the 3D-scaffolds for the later analysis e.g. by flow cytometry. In this protocol human neural progenitor cells (hNPCs) of the ReNcell VM cell line (Millipore USA) were cultured and differentiated in 3D-scaffolds consisting of PuraMatrix (PM) or PuraMatrix supplemented with laminin (PML). In our hands a PM-concentration of 0.25% was optimal for the cultivation of the cells13
, however the concentration might be adapted to other cell types.12
The released cells can be used for e.g. immunocytochemical studies and subsequently analysed by flow cytometry. This speeds up the analysis and more over, the obtained data rest upon a wider base, improving the reliability of the data.
Bioengineering, Issue 59, PuraMatrix, RADA16, 3D-scaffold, ReNcell VM, human neural progenitor cells, quantification
Longitudinal Measurement of Extracellular Matrix Rigidity in 3D Tumor Models Using Particle-tracking Microrheology
Institutions: University of Massachusetts Boston.
The mechanical microenvironment has been shown to act as a crucial regulator of tumor growth behavior and signaling, which is itself remodeled and modified as part of a set of complex, two-way mechanosensitive interactions. While the development of biologically-relevant 3D tumor models have facilitated mechanistic studies on the impact of matrix rheology on tumor growth, the inverse problem of mapping changes in the mechanical environment induced by tumors remains challenging. Here, we describe the implementation of particle-tracking microrheology (PTM) in conjunction with 3D models of pancreatic cancer as part of a robust and viable approach for longitudinally monitoring physical changes in the tumor microenvironment, in situ
. The methodology described here integrates a system of preparing in vitro
3D models embedded in a model extracellular matrix (ECM) scaffold of Type I collagen with fluorescently labeled probes uniformly distributed for position- and time-dependent microrheology measurements throughout the specimen. In vitro
tumors are plated and probed in parallel conditions using multiwell imaging plates. Drawing on established methods, videos of tracer probe movements are transformed via the Generalized Stokes Einstein Relation (GSER) to report the complex frequency-dependent viscoelastic shear modulus, G*(ω)
. Because this approach is imaging-based, mechanical characterization is also mapped onto large transmitted-light spatial fields to simultaneously report qualitative changes in 3D tumor size and phenotype. Representative results showing contrasting mechanical response in sub-regions associated with localized invasion-induced matrix degradation as well as system calibration, validation data are presented. Undesirable outcomes from common experimental errors and troubleshooting of these issues are also presented. The 96-well 3D culture plating format implemented in this protocol is conducive to correlation of microrheology measurements with therapeutic screening assays or molecular imaging to gain new insights into impact of treatments or biochemical stimuli on the mechanical microenvironment.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, viscoelasticity, mechanobiology, extracellular matrix (ECM), matrix remodeling, 3D tumor models, tumor microenvironment, stroma, matrix metalloprotease (MMP), epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT)
Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g.
primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;
H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
Synthesis of an Intein-mediated Artificial Protein Hydrogel
Institutions: Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas A&M University, College Station.
We present the synthesis of a highly stable protein hydrogel mediated by a split-intein-catalyzed protein trans
-splicing reaction. The building blocks of this hydrogel are two protein block-copolymers each containing a subunit of a trimeric protein that serves as a crosslinker and one half of a split intein. A highly hydrophilic random coil is inserted into one of the block-copolymers for water retention. Mixing of the two protein block copolymers triggers an intein trans
-splicing reaction, yielding a polypeptide unit with crosslinkers at either end that rapidly self-assembles into a hydrogel. This hydrogel is very stable under both acidic and basic conditions, at temperatures up to 50 °C, and in organic solvents. The hydrogel rapidly reforms after shear-induced rupture. Incorporation of a "docking station peptide" into the hydrogel building block enables convenient incorporation of "docking protein"-tagged target proteins. The hydrogel is compatible with tissue culture growth media, supports the diffusion of 20 kDa molecules, and enables the immobilization of bioactive globular proteins. The application of the intein-mediated protein hydrogel as an organic-solvent-compatible biocatalyst was demonstrated by encapsulating the horseradish peroxidase enzyme and corroborating its activity.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, split-intein, self-assembly, shear-thinning, enzyme, immobilization, organic synthesis
Preparation of Hydroxy-PAAm Hydrogels for Decoupling the Effects of Mechanotransduction Cues
Institutions: Université de Mons.
It is now well established that many cellular functions are regulated by interactions of cells with physicochemical and mechanical cues of their extracellular matrix (ECM) environment. Eukaryotic cells constantly sense their local microenvironment through surface mechanosensors to transduce physical changes of ECM into biochemical signals, and integrate these signals to achieve specific changes in gene expression. Interestingly, physicochemical and mechanical parameters of the ECM can couple with each other to regulate cell fate. Therefore, a key to understanding mechanotransduction is to decouple the relative contribution of ECM cues on cellular functions.
Here we present a detailed experimental protocol to rapidly and easily generate biologically relevant hydrogels for the independent tuning of mechanotransduction cues in vitro
. We chemically modified polyacrylamide hydrogels (PAAm) to surmount their intrinsically non-adhesive properties by incorporating hydroxyl-functionalized acrylamide monomers during the polymerization. We obtained a novel PAAm hydrogel, called hydroxy-PAAm, which permits immobilization of any desired nature of ECM proteins. The combination of hydroxy-PAAm hydrogels with microcontact printing allows to independently control the morphology of single-cells, the matrix stiffness, the nature and the density of ECM proteins. We provide a simple and rapid method that can be set up in every biology lab to study in vitro
cell mechanotransduction processes. We validate this novel two-dimensional platform by conducting experiments on endothelial cells that demonstrate a mechanical coupling between ECM stiffness and the nucleus.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, hydrogels, mechanotransduction, polyacrylamide, microcontact printing, cell shape, stiffness, durotaxis, cell-ligand density
Preparation of DNA-crosslinked Polyacrylamide Hydrogels
Institutions: JFK Medical Center, Rutgers University, Rutgers University.
Mechanobiology is an emerging scientific area that addresses the critical role of physical cues in directing cell morphology and function. For example, the effect of tissue elasticity on cell function is a major area of mechanobiology research because tissue stiffness modulates with disease, development, and injury. Static tissue-mimicking materials, or materials that cannot alter stiffness once cells are plated, are predominately used to investigate the effects of tissue stiffness on cell functions. While information gathered from static studies is valuable, these studies are not indicative of the dynamic nature of the cellular microenvironment in vivo
. To better address the effects of dynamic stiffness on cell function, we developed a DNA-crosslinked polyacrylamide hydrogel system (DNA gels). Unlike other dynamic substrates, DNA gels have the ability to decrease or increase in stiffness after fabrication without stimuli. DNA gels consist of DNA crosslinks that are polymerized into a polyacrylamide backbone. Adding and removing crosslinks via delivery of single-stranded DNA allows temporal, spatial, and reversible control of gel elasticity. We have shown in previous reports that dynamic modulation of DNA gel elasticity influences fibroblast and neuron behavior. In this report and video, we provide a schematic that describes the DNA gel crosslinking mechanisms and step-by-step instructions on the preparation DNA gels.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, bioengineering (general), Elastic, viscoelastic, bis-acrylamide, substrate, stiffness, dynamic, static, neuron, fibroblast, compliance, ECM, mechanobiology, tunable
Printing Thermoresponsive Reverse Molds for the Creation of Patterned Two-component Hydrogels for 3D Cell Culture
Institutions: Cartilage Engineering & Regeneration, Innovent e.V..
Bioprinting is an emerging technology that has its origins in the rapid prototyping industry. The different printing processes can be divided into contact bioprinting1-4
(extrusion, dip pen and soft lithography), contactless bioprinting5-7
(laser forward transfer, ink-jet deposition) and laser based techniques such as two photon photopolymerization8
. It can be used for many applications such as tissue engineering9-13
, biosensor microfabrication14-16
and as a tool to answer basic biological questions such as influences of co-culturing of different cell types17
. Unlike common photolithographic or soft-lithographic methods, extrusion bioprinting has the advantage that it does not require a separate mask or stamp. Using CAD software, the design of the structure can quickly be changed and adjusted according to the requirements of the operator. This makes bioprinting more flexible than lithography-based approaches.
Here we demonstrate the printing of a sacrificial mold to create a multi-material 3D structure using an array of pillars within a hydrogel as an example. These pillars could represent hollow structures for a vascular network or the tubes within a nerve guide conduit. The material chosen for the sacrificial mold was poloxamer 407, a thermoresponsive polymer with excellent printing properties which is liquid at 4 °C and a solid above its gelation temperature ~20 °C for 24.5% w/v solutions18
. This property allows the poloxamer-based sacrificial mold to be eluted on demand and has advantages over the slow dissolution of a solid material especially for narrow geometries. Poloxamer was printed on microscope glass slides to create the sacrificial mold. Agarose was pipetted into the mold and cooled until gelation. After elution of the poloxamer in ice cold water, the voids in the agarose mold were filled with alginate methacrylate spiked with FITC labeled fibrinogen. The filled voids were then cross-linked with UV and the construct was imaged with an epi-fluorescence microscope.
Bioengineering, Issue 77, Immunology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Molecular Biology, Materials Science, Tissue Engineering, Biomaterials, Hydrogel, Biopolymers, Structured/Patterned Hydrogels, Bioprinter, Sacrificial Mold, Thermoresponsive Polymers, Poloxamer, tissue, polymer, matrix, cell, cell culture
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
Interview: Bioreactors and Surfaced-Modified 3D-Scaffolds for Stem Cell Research
Institutions: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
A Nature Editorial in 2003 asked the question "Good-bye, flat biology?" What does this question imply? In the past, many in vitro culture systems, mainly monolayer cultures, often suffered from the disadvantage that differentiated primary cells had a relatively short life-span and de-differentiated during culture. As a consequence, most of their organ-specific functions were lost rapidly. Thus, in order to reproduce better conditions for these cells in vitro, modifications and adaptations have been made to conventional monolayer cultures.
The last generation of CellChips -- micro-thermoformed containers -- a specific technology was developed, which offers the additional possibility to modify the whole surface of the 3D formed containers. This allows a surface-patterning on a submicron scale with distinct signalling molecules. Sensors and signal electrodes may be incorporated. Applications range from basic research in cell biology to toxicology and pharmacology. Using biodegradable polymers, clinical applications become a possibility. Furthermore, the last generation of micro-thermoformed chips has been optimized to allow for cheap mass production.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Interview, bioreactors, cell culture systems, 3D cell culture, stem cells
PuraMatrix Encapsulation of Cancer Cells
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, Dartmouth College, Harvard Medical School.
Increasing evidence suggests that culturing cancer cells in three dimensions more accurately recapitulates the complexity of tumor biology. Many of these models utilize reconstituted basement membrane derived from animals which contain a variable amount of growth factors and cytokines that can influence the growth of these cell culture models. Here, we describe in detail the preparation and use of PuraMatrix, a commercially available self assembling peptide gel that is devoid of animal-derived material and pathogens to encapsulate and propagate the ovarian cancer cell line, OVCAR-5. We begin by describing how to prepare the PuraMatrix prior to use. Next, we demonstrate how to properly mix the PuraMatrix and cell suspension to encapsulate the cells in the hydrogel. Upon the addition of cell culture media or injection into a physiological environment, the peptide component of PuraMatrix rapidly self assembles into a 3D hydrogel that exhibits a nanometer scale fibrous structure with an average pore size of 5-200 nm1
. In addition, we demonstrate how to propagate cultures grown in encapsulated PuraMatrix. When encapsulated in PuraMatrix, OVCAR-5 cells assemble into three dimensional acinar structures that more closely resemble the morphology of micrometastatic nodules observed in the clinic than monolayer in vitro models. Using confocal microscopy we illustrate the appearance of representative OVCAR-5 cells encapsulated in PuraMatrix on day 1, 3, 5, and 7 post plating. The use of PuraMatrix to culture cancer cells should improve our understanding of the disease and allow us to assess treatment response in more clinically predictive model systems.
Cellular Biology, Issue 34, PuraMatrix, OVCAR-5 cells, Cancer, in vitro models, 3D, Encapsulation, PuraMatrix,
Studying the Effects of Matrix Stiffness on Cellular Function using Acrylamide-based Hydrogels
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania .
Tissue stiffness is an important determinant of cellular function, and changes in tissue stiffness are commonly associated with fibrosis, cancer and cardiovascular disease1-11
. Traditional cell biological approaches to studying cellular function involve culturing cells on a rigid substratum (plastic dishes or glass coverslips) which cannot account for the effect of an elastic ECM or the variations in ECM stiffness between tissues. To model in vivo
tissue compliance conditions in vitro
, we and others use ECM-coated hydrogels. In our laboratory, the hydrogels are based on polyacrylamide which can mimic the range of tissue compliances seen biologically12
. "Reactive" cover slips are generated by incubation with NaOH followed by addition of 3-APTMS. Glutaraldehyde is used to cross-link the 3-APTMS and the polyacrylamide gel. A solution of acrylamide (AC), bis-acrylamide (Bis-AC) and ammonium persulfate is used for the polymerization of the hydrogel. N-hydroxysuccinimide (NHS) is incorporated into the AC solution to crosslink ECM protein to the hydrogel. Following polymerization of the hydrogel, the gel surface is coated with an ECM protein of choice such as fibronectin, vitronectin, collagen, etc.
The stiffness of a hydrogel can be determined by rheology or atomic force microscopy (AFM) and adjusted by varying the percentage of AC and/or bis-AC in the solution12
. In this manner, substratum stiffness can be matched to the stiffness of biological tissues which can also be quantified using rheology or AFM. Cells can then be seeded on these hydrogels and cultured based upon the experimental conditions required. Imaging of the cells and their recovery for molecular analysis is straightforward. For this article, we define soft substrata as those having elastic moduli (E) <3000 Pascal and stiff substrata/tissues as those with E >20,000 Pascal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 42, substrata stiffness, polyacrylamide, hydrogel, synthetic matrix, extracellular matrix, ECM