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Tissue Eng Part C Methods. 2018 Jun;24(6):346-359. doi: 10.1089/ten.TEC.2018.0062.

Bioinspired Three-Dimensional Human Neuromuscular Junction Development in Suspended Hydrogel Arrays.

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1 Department of Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University , Medford, Massachusetts.
2 Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology Program, Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences , Boston, Massachusetts.
3 Department of Plastics Engineering, University of Massachusetts Lowell , Lowell, Massachusetts.
4 Department of Biology, Tufts University , Medford, Massachusetts.


The physical connection between motoneurons and skeletal muscle targets is responsible for the creation of neuromuscular junctions (NMJs), which allow electrical signals to be translated to mechanical work. NMJ pathology contributes to the spectrum of neuromuscular, motoneuron, and dystrophic disease. Improving in vitro tools that allow for recapitulation of the physiology of the neuromuscular connection will enable researchers to better understand the development and maturation of NMJs, and will help to decipher mechanisms leading to NMJ degeneration. In this work, we first describe robust differentiation of bungarotoxin-positive human myotubes, as well as a reproducible method for encapsulating and aligning human myoblasts in three-dimensional (3D) suspended culture using bioprinted silk fibroin cantilevers as cell culture supports. Further analysis with coculture of motoneuron-like cells demonstrates feasibility of fully human coculture using two-dimensional and 2.5-dimensional culture methods, with appropriate differentiation of both cell types. Using these coculture differentiation conditions with motoneuron-like cells added to monocultures of 3D suspended human myotubes, we then demonstrate synaptic colocalization in coculture as well as acetylcholine and glutamic acid stimulation of human myocytes. This method represents a unique platform to coculture suspended human myoblast-seeded 3D hydrogels with integrated motoneuron-like cells derived from human induced neural stem cells. The platform described is fully customizable using 3D freeform printing into standard laboratory tissue culture materials, and allows for human myoblast alignment in 3D with precise motoneuron integration into preformed myotubes. The coculture method will ideally be useful in observation and analysis of neurite outgrowth and myogenic differentiation in 3D with quantification of several parameters of muscle innervation and function.


3D tissues; hydrogels; neuromuscular

[Available on 2019-06-01]

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