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Neural Regen Res. 2016 Nov;11(11):1810-1815. doi: 10.4103/1673-5374.194751.

Development of a 3D matrix for modeling mammalian spinal cord injury in vitro.

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Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA; Current address: Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, USA.
Minnesota Dental Research Center for Biomaterials and Biomechanics, Department of Restorative Sciences, School of Dentistry, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA.
Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA.


Spinal cord injury affects millions of people around the world, however, limited therapies are available to improve the quality of life of these patients. Spinal cord injury is usually modeled in rats and mice using contusion or complete transection models and this has led to a deeper understanding of the molecular and cellular complexities of the injury. However, it has not to date led to development of successful novel therapies, this is in part due to the complexity of the injury and the difficulty of deciphering the exact roles and interactions of different cells within this complex environment. Here we developed a collagen matrix that can be molded into the 3D tubular shape with a lumen and can hence support cell interactions in a similar architecture to a spinal cord. We show that astrocytes can be successfully grown on this matrix in vitro and when injured, the cells respond as they do in vivo and undergo reactive gliosis, one of the steps that lead to formation of a glial scar, the main barrier to spinal cord regeneration. In the future, this system can be used to quickly assess the effect of drugs on glial scar protein activity or to perform live imaging of labeled cells after exposure to drugs.


3D scaffold; astrocytes; in vitro models; nerve regeneration; neural regeneration; reactive gliosis; spinal cord injury

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