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Biomaterials. 2008 Apr;29(12):1853-61. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2007.12.044. Epub 2008 Feb 19.

Partitioning microfluidic channels with hydrogel to construct tunable 3-D cellular microenvironments.

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Harvard Biophysics Program, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Accurate modeling of the cellular microenvironment is important for improving studies of cell biology in vitro. Here, we demonstrate a flexible method for creating a cellular microenvironment in vitro that allows (i) controlled spatial distribution (patterning) of multiple types of cells within three-dimensional (3-D) matrices of a biologically derived, thermally curable hydrogel (Matrigel) and (ii) application of gradients of soluble factors, such as cytokines, across the hydrogel. The technique uses laminar flow to divide a microchannel into multiple subchannels separated by microslabs of hydrogel. It does not require the use of UV light or photoinitiators and is compatible with cell culture in the hydrogel. This technique makes it possible to design model systems to study cellular communication mediated by the diffusion of soluble factors within 3-D matrices. Such factors can originate either from secretions of neighboring cells patterned within the microchannel, or from an external source -- e.g., a solution of growth factors injected into a subchannel. This method is particularly useful for studying cells such as those of the immune system, which are often weakly adherent and difficult to position precisely with standard systems for cell culture. We demonstrated this application by co-culturing two types of macrophage-like cells (BAC1.2F5 and LADMAC cell lines) within spatially separated regions of a slab of hydrogel. This pair of cell lines represents a simple model system for intercellular communication: the LADMAC cells produce colony-stimulating factor 1 (CSF-1), which is required by the BAC cells for survival.

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