Stiff-to-soft transition from glass to 3d hydrogel substrates in neuronal cell culture

Gulden Akcay, Regina Luttge (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Over the past decade, hydrogels have shown great potential for mimicking three-dimensional (3D) brain architectures in vitro due to their biocompatibility, biodegradability, and wide range of tunable mechanical properties. To better comprehend in vitro human brain models and the mechanotransduction processes, we generated a 3D hydrogel model by casting photo-polymerized gelatin methacryloyl (GelMA) in comparison to poly (ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA) atop of SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells seeded with 150,000 cells/cm2 according to our previous experience in a microliter-sized polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) ring serving for confinement. 3D SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells in GelMA demonstrated an elongated, branched, and spreading morphology resembling neurons, while the cell survival in cast PEGDA was not supported. Confocal z-stack microscopy confirmed our hypothesis that stiff-to-soft material transitions promoted neuronal migration into the third dimension. Unfortunately, large cell aggregates were also observed. A subsequent cell seeding density study revealed a seeding cell density above 10,000 cells/cm2 started the formation of cell aggregates, and below 1500 cells/cm2 cells still appeared as single cells on day 6. These results allowed us to conclude that the optimum cell seeding density might be between 1500 and 5000 cells/cm2. This type of hydrogel construct is suitable to design a more advanced layered mechanotransduction model toward 3D microfluidic brain-on-a-chip applications.

Original languageEnglish
Article number165
Number of pages11
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2021


  • 3D cell culture
  • Brain-on-a-chip
  • GelMA
  • Hydrogel
  • Mechanotransduction
  • SH-SY5Y cells


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