Organotypic brain explant culture as a drug evaluation system for malignant brain tumors

Cancer Med. 2017 Nov;6(11):2635-2645. doi: 10.1002/cam4.1174. Epub 2017 Oct 4.


Therapeutic options for malignant brain tumors are limited, with new drugs being continuously evaluated. Organotypic brain slice culture has been adopted for neuroscience studies as a system that preserves brain architecture, cellular function, and the vascular network. However, the suitability of brain explants for anticancer drug evaluation has been unclear. We here adopted a mouse model of malignant glioma based on expression of H-RasV12 in Ink4a/Arf-/- neural stem/progenitor cells to establish tumor-bearing brain explants from adult mice. We treated the slices with cisplatin, temozolomide, paclitaxel, or tranilast and investigated the minimal assays required to assess drug effects. Serial fluorescence-based tumor imaging was sufficient for evaluation of cisplatin, a drug with a pronounced cytotoxic action, whereas immunostaining of cleaved caspase 3 (a marker of apoptosis) and of Ki67 (a marker of cell proliferation) was necessary for the assessment of temozolomide action and immunostaining for phosphorylated histone H3 (a marker of mitosis) allowed visualization of paclitaxel-specific effects. Staining for cleaved caspase 3 was also informative in the assessment of drug toxicity for normal brain tissue. Incubation of explants with fluorescently labeled antibodies to CD31 allowed real-time imaging of the microvascular network and complemented time-lapse imaging of tumor cell invasion into surrounding tissue. Our results suggest that a combination of fluorescence imaging and immunohistological staining allows a unified assessment of the effects of various classes of drug on the survival, proliferation, and invasion of glioma cells, and that organotypic brain slice culture is therefore a useful tool for evaluation of antiglioma drugs.

Keywords: Drug screening; glioma stem cells; invasion; malignant brain tumors; organotypic slice culture.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Brain Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Brain Neoplasms / pathology
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cisplatin / pharmacology
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16 / genetics
  • Dacarbazine / analogs & derivatives
  • Dacarbazine / pharmacology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor / methods*
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Genes, ras
  • Glioma / drug therapy*
  • Glioma / pathology
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Ki-67 Antigen / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neural Stem Cells
  • Paclitaxel / pharmacology
  • Spheroids, Cellular / drug effects
  • Temozolomide
  • Tissue Culture Techniques*
  • ortho-Aminobenzoates / pharmacology


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cdkn2a protein, mouse
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16
  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • ortho-Aminobenzoates
  • Dacarbazine
  • Caspase 3
  • tranilast
  • Paclitaxel
  • Cisplatin
  • Temozolomide