Quantification of the forces driving self-assembly of three-dimensional microtissues

Youssef J, Nurse AK, Freund LB, Morgan JR.
Department of Molecular Pharmacology, Center for Biomedical Engineering, and School of Engineering, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA.

In a nonadhesive environment, cells will self-assemble into microtissues, a process relevant to tissue engineering. Although this has been recognized for some time, there is no basis for quantitative characterization of this complex process. Here we describe a recently developed assay designed to quantify aspects of the process and discuss its application in comparing behaviors between cell types. Cells were seeded in nonadhesive micromolded wells, each well with a circular trough at its base formed by the cylindrical sidewalls and by a central peg in the form of a right circular cone. Cells settled into the trough and coalesced into a toroid, which was then driven up the conical peg by the forces of self-assembly. The mass of the toroid and its rate of upward movement were used to calculate the cell power expended in the process against gravity. The power of the toroid was found to be 0.31 ± 0.01 pJ/h and 4.3 ± 1.7 pJ/h for hepatocyte cells and fibroblasts, respectively. Blocking Rho kinase by means of Y-27632 resulted in a 50% and greater reduction in power expended by each type of toroid, indicating that cytoskeletal-mediated contraction plays a significant role in the self-assembly of both cell types. Whereas the driving force for self-assembly has often been viewed as the binding of surface proteins, these data show that cellular contraction is important for cell-cell adhesion. The power measurement quantifies the contribution of cell contraction, and will be useful for understanding the concerted action of the mechanisms that drive self-assembly.

3D Petri Dishes™ used in this paper (please click catalog numbers for detailed product descriptions):
Catalog # 12-36TO is the MicroTissues, Inc product that grows a multi-cellular microtissue in the shape of a toroid.

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