Many cell types communicate by means of dendritic extensions via a multi-tiered set of geometric and chemical cues. Until recently, mimicking the compartmentalized in vivo cellular environment of dendrite-expressing cells such as osteocytes and motor neurons in a spatially and temporally controllable manner was limited by the challenges of in vitro device fabrication at submicron scales. Utilizing the improved resolution of current fabrication technology, we have designed a multiscale device, the Macro-micro-nano system, or Mμn, composed of two distinct cell-seeding and interrogation compartments separated by a nanochannel array. The array enables dendrite ingrowth, while providing a mechanism for fluidic sequestration and/or temporally-mediated diffusible signaling between cell populations. Modeling of the Mμn system predicted the ability to isolate diffusible signals, namely ATP. Empirical diffusion studies verified computational modeling. In addition, cell viability, dendrite interaction with the nanoarray, and cellular purinergic response to heat shock were experimentally evaluated within the device for both osteocytes and motor neurons. Our results describe a novel in vitro system in which dendrite-expressing cell types can be studied within nano-environments that mimic in vivo conditions. In particular, the Mμn system enables real-time observation of cell to cell communication between cell populations in distinct, but fluidically coupled regions.
Keywords: Bone; Lacunar canalicular system; Microfluidics; Neurons; Osteocytes; Purinergic sigaling.