The multilayered postconfluent cell culture as a model for drug screening

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. Nov-Dec 2000;36(2-3):141-57. doi: 10.1016/s1040-8428(00)00083-4.


New drug development requires simple in vitro models that resemble the in vivo situation more in order to select active drugs against solid tumours and to decrease the use of experimental animals. In this paper, we review the characteristics and scope of a relatively simple cell-culture system with a three-dimensional organisation pattern - the multilayered postconfluent cell culture model. Solid tumour cell lines from diverse origins when grown in V-bottomed microtiter plates reach confluence in 3-5 days and then start to form multilayers. The initial exponential growth of the culture is followed by a plateau phase when cells reach confluence. This produces changes in the morphology of the cells. For some cell lines, it is possible to observe cell differentiation. A substantial advantage of the system is the use of the sulforodamine B (SRB) assay to determine relative cell growth or viability, which allows semiautomation of the experiments. Several experiments were performed to assess the differences and similarities between cells cultured as monolayers and multilayers, and eventually, compared with the results for solid tumours and some other models such as spheroids. Cell-cycle analysis for multilayers showed a lower S-phase arrest, which is accompanied by a decrease in the expression of cell-cycle-related proteins and a decrease in cellular nucleotide pools. Gene and protein expression of topoisomerase I, topoisomerase II and thymidylate synthase expression were lower for multilayers, but no substantial changes were observed for the expression of DT-diaphorase. P53 expression increased. Multilayer cultures present distinctive properties for drug transport across the membrane, drug accumulation and retention. In fact, the transport of antifolates across the membrane, accumulation of topotecan and gemcitabine-triphosphate are reduced in multilayers when compared with monolayers, which may be related to a decrease in drug penetration to the inner regions of the multilayers. Alteration of these pharmacodynamic parameters is directly related to a decrease in drug activity. The most powerful application of multilayers is in the assessment of cytotoxicity. Solid tumour cell lines from different origins have been treated with several conventional and investigational anticancer drugs. The data show that multilayers are more resistant to the drugs than the corresponding monolayers, but there are substantial differences between the drugs depending on culture conditions, e.g. the difference was rather small for a drug such as cisplatin, miltefosine and EO9, a drug, which is activated under hypoxic conditions. Gemcitabine was active against ovarian cancer but not against colon cancer, resembling the in vivo situation. This observation was not evident with monolayer experiments. Another interesting application is the possibility to perform drug combination studies. The combination of gemcitabine and cisplatin proved to produce selective cell kill in H322 cells (non-small cell lung cancer cell line). Neither of the drugs was independently able to produce similar effects. In summary, multilayer cultures are relatively simple three-dimensional systems to study the effect of microenvironmental conditions on anticancer drug activity. The model might serve as a base for a more rigorous secondary in vitro screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods*
  • Cell Division
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / methods*
  • Humans