Accompanied by decreased hepatic functions, epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) was observed in two dimensional (2D) cultured hepatocytes with elongated morphology, loss of polarity and weakened cell-cell interaction, while upgrading to 3D culture has been considered as significant improvement of its 2D counterpart for hepatocyte maintenance. Here we hypothesize that 3D culture enhances hepatic functions through regulating the EMT status. Biomaterial-engineered EMT was achieved by culturing HepaRG as 3D spheroids (SP-3D) or 3D stretched cells (ST-3D) in non-adherent and adherent micro-scaffold respectively. In SP-3D, constrained EMT of HepaRG, a hepatic stem cell line, as represented by increased epithelial markers and decreased mesenchymal markers, was echoed by improved hepatic functions. To investigate the relationship between EMT status and hepatic functions, time-series RNA-Seq and gene network analysis were used for comparing different cell culture models, which identified histone deacetylases (HDACs) as key mediating factors. Protein analysis confirmed that high HDAC activity was correlated with high expression of Cadherin-1 (CDH1) and hepatic function genes, which were decreased upon HDAC inhibitor treatment in SP-3D, suggesting HDACs may play positive role in regulating EMT and hepatic functions. To illustrate the application of 3D micro-scaffold culture in drug safety evaluation, hepatotoxicity and metabolism assays of two hepatotoxins (i.e. N-acetyl-p-aminophenol and Doxorubicin) were performed and SP-3D showed more biomimetic toxicity response, indicating regulation of EMT as a vital consideration in designing 3D hepatocyte culture configuration.
Keywords: 3D micro-scaffold; Drug hepatotoxicity evaluation; EMT; HDACs; Hepatic functions.
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