Studies of cell-cell cohesion and cell-substratum adhesion have historically been performed on monolayer cultures adherent to rigid substrates. Cells within a tissue, however, are typically encased within a closely packed tissue mass in which cells establish intimate connections with many near-neighbors and with extracellular matrix components. Accordingly, the chemical milieu and physical forces experienced by cells within a 3D tissue are fundamentally different than those experienced by cells grown in monolayer culture. This has been shown to markedly impact cellular morphology and signaling. Several methods have been devised to generate 3D cell cultures including encapsulation of cells in collagen gels or in biomaterial scaffolds. Such methods, while useful, do not recapitulate the intimate direct cell-cell adhesion architecture found in normal tissues. Rather, they more closely approximate culture systems in which single cells are loosely dispersed within a 3D meshwork of ECM products. Here, we describe a simple method in which cells are placed in hanging drop culture and incubated under physiological conditions until they form true 3D spheroids in which cells are in direct contact with each other and with extracellular matrix components. The method requires no specialized equipment and can be adapted to include addition of any biological agent in very small quantities that may be of interest in elucidating effects on cell-cell or cell-ECM interaction. The method can also be used to co-culture two (or more) different cell populations so as to elucidate the role of cell-cell or cell-ECM interactions in specifying spatial relationships between cells. Cell-cell cohesion and cell-ECM adhesion are the cornerstones of studies of embryonic development, tumor-stromal cell interaction in malignant invasion, wound healing, and for applications to tissue engineering. This simple method will provide a means of generating tissue-like cellular aggregates for measurement of biomechanical properties or for molecular and biochemical analysis in a physiologically relevant model.
Copyright © 2011 Journal of Visualized Experiments