Journal article

Synergistic NGF/B27 Gradients Position Synapses Heterogeneously in 3D Micropatterned Neural Cultures

Native functional brain circuits show different numbers of synapses (synaptic densities) in the cerebral cortex. Until now, different synaptic densities could not be studied in vitro using current cell culture methods for primary neurons. Herein, we present a novel microfluidic based cell culture method that combines 3D micropatterning of hydrogel layers with linear chemical gradient formation. Micropatterned hydrogels were used to encapsulate dissociated cortical neurons in laminar cell layers and neurotrophic factors NGF and B27 were added to influence the formation of synapses. Neurotrophic gradients allowed for the positioning of distinguishable synaptic densities throughout a 3D micropatterned neural culture. NGF and B27 gradients were maintained in the microfluidic device for over two weeks without perfusion pumps by utilizing a refilling procedure. Spatial distribution of synapses was examined with a pre-synaptic marker to determine synaptic densities. From our experiments, we observed that (1) cortical neurons responded only to synergistic NGF/B27 gradients, (2) synaptic density increased proportionally to synergistic NGF/B27 gradients; (3) homogeneous distribution of B27 disturbed cortical neurons in sensing NGF gradients and (4) the cell layer position significantly impacted spatial distribution of synapses.


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