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FASEB J. 1996 Nov;10(13):1471-84.

Effect of extracellular matrix topology on cell structure, function, and physiological responsiveness: hepatocytes cultured in a sandwich configuration.

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  • 1Center for Engineering in Medicine/Surgical Services, Massachusetts General Hospital and the Shriners Burns Institute, Department of Surgery, Harvard Medical School, Boston 02114, USA.


Extracellular matrix (ECM) geometry is an important modulator of cell polarity and function. For example, 3-dimensional matrices often more effectively induce differentiated cell function than traditional 2-dimensional substrates. The effect of ECM topology can be investigated in a controlled fashion using a technique whereby cells cultured on a single surface are overlaid with a second layer of ECM, thereby creating a "sandwich" configuration. Confluent monolayers of epithelial or endothelial cells overlaid in this fashion often reorganize into structures that are reminiscent of their native tissue. In the case of hepatocytes, the overlay causes a dramatic reorganization of the cytoskeleton, adoption of in vivo-like morphology and polarity, and expression of a wide array of liver-specific functions. In this short review, we use the sandwiched hepatocyte culture system to illustrate the effect of ECM geometry on cellular function. Pertinent studies are summarized in the context of defining the parallels, strengths, and limitations of this culture system as an in vitro model to study the physiology and morphogenesis of liver tissue. We also explore some of its potential uses as a model to study liver pharmacology and toxicology, and for the development of liver preservation techniques and liver-assist devices.

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