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Patterning Neuroepithelial Cell Sheet via a Sustained Chemical Gradient Generated by Localized Passive Diffusion Devices

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journal contribution
posted on 22.03.2021, 22:13 by Ningwei Li, Feiyu Yang, Subiksha Parthasarathy, Sarah St. Pierre, Kelly Hong, Narciso Pavon, ChangHui Pak, Yubing Sun
Recent advances in human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs)-derived in vitro models open a new avenue for studying early stage human development. While current approaches leverage the self-organizing capability of hPSCs, it remains unclear whether extrinsic morphogen gradients are sufficient to pattern neuroectoderm tissues in vitro. While microfluidics or hydrogel-based approaches to generate chemical gradients are well-established, these systems either require continuous pumping or encapsulating cells in gels, making it difficult for adaptation in standard biology laboratories and downstream analysis. In this work, we report a new device design that leverages localized passive diffusion, or LPaD for short, to generate a stable chemical gradient in an open environment. As LPaD is operated simply by media changing, common issues for microfluidic systems such as leakage, bubble formation, and contamination can be avoided. The device contains a slit carved in a film filled with solid gelatin and connected to a static aqueous morphogen reservoir. Concentration gradients generated by the device were visualized via DAPI fluorescent intensity and were found to be stable for up to 168 h. Using this device, we successfully induced cellular response of Madin–Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells to the concentration gradient of a small-molecule drug, cytochalasin D. Furthermore, we efficiently patterned the dorsal–ventral axis of hPSC-derived forebrain neuroepithelial cells with the sonic hedgehog (Shh) signal gradient generated by the LPaD devices. Together, LPaD devices are powerful tools to control the local chemical microenvironment for engineering organotypic structures in vitro.