Low-Shear Modelled Microgravity Environment Maintains Morphology and Differentiated Functionality of Primary Porcine Hepatocyte Cultures

Leonard J. Nelson, Simon W. Walker, Peter C. Hayes, John N. Plevris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hepatocytes cultured in conventional static culture rapidly lose polarity and differentiated function. This could be explained by gravity-induced sedimentation, which prevents formation of complete three-dimensional (3D) cell-cell/cellmatrix interactions and disrupts integrin-mediated signals (including the most abundant hepatic integrin alpha(5)beta(1)), important for cellular polarity and differentiation. Cell culture in a low fluid shear modelled microgravity (about 10(-2) g) environment promotes spatial colocation/self-aggregation of dissociated cells and induction of 3D differentiated liver morphology. Previously, we demonstrated the utility of a NASA rotary bioreactor in maintaining key metabolic functions and 3D aggregate formation of high-density primary porcine hepatocyte cultures over 21 days. Using serum-free chemically defined medium, without confounding interactions of exogenous bioscaffolding or bioenhancing surface materials, we investigated features of hepatic cellular polarity and differentiated functionality, including expression of hepatic integrin alpha(5), as markers of functional morphology. We report here that in the absence of exogenous biomatrix scaffolding, hepatocytes cultured in serum-free chemically defined medium in a microgravity environment rapidly (<24 h) form macroscopic (2-5 mm), compacted 3D hepatospheroid structures consisting of a shell of glycogen-positive viable cells circumscribing a core of eosinophilic cells. The spheroid shell layers exhibited ultrastructural, morphological and functional features of differentiated, polarized hepatic tissue including strong expression of the integrin alpha(5) subunit, functional bile canaliculi, albumin synthesis, and fine ultrastructure reminiscent of in vivo hepatic tissue. The low fluid shear microgravity environment may promote tissue-like self-organization of dissociated cells, and offer advantages over spheroids cultured in conventional formats to delineate optimal conditions for enhanced directed tissue self-assembly. Copyright (C) 2010 S. Karger AG, Basel

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-140
Number of pages16
JournalCells tissues organs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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