Functional Characterization of Resting and Adenovirus-Induced Reactive Astrocytes in Three-Dimensional Culture

Exp Neurobiol. 2017 Jun;26(3):158-167. doi: 10.5607/en.2017.26.3.158. Epub 2017 Jun 26.


Brain is a rich environment where neurons and glia interact with neighboring cells as well as extracellular matrix in three-dimensional (3D) space. Astrocytes, which are the most abundant cells in the mammalian brain, reside in 3D space and extend highly branched processes that form microdomains and contact synapses. It has been suggested that astrocytes cultured in 3D might be maintained in a less reactive state as compared to those growing in a traditional, two-dimensional (2D) monolayer culture. However, the functional characterization of the astrocytes in 3D culture has been lacking. Here we cocultured neurons and astrocytes in 3D and examined the morphological, molecular biological, and electrophysiological properties of the 3D-cultured hippocampal astrocytes. In our 3D neuron-astrocyte coculture, astrocytes showed a typical morphology of a small soma with many branches and exhibited a unique membrane property of passive conductance, more closely resembling their native in vivo counterparts. Moreover, we also induced reactive astrocytosis in culture by infecting with high-titer adenovirus to mimic pathophysiological conditions in vivo. Adenoviral infection induced morphological changes in astrocytes, increased passive conductance, and increased GABA content as well as tonic GABA release, which are characteristics of reactive gliosis. Together, our study presents a powerful in vitro model resembling both physiological and pathophysiological conditions in vivo, and thereby provides a versatile experimental tool for studying various neurological diseases that accompany reactive astrocytes.

Keywords: 3D culture; adenovirus; functional characterization; passive conductance; reactive astrocyte; tonic GABA current.