Screening method to identify hydrogel formulations that facilitate myotube formation from encapsulated primary myoblasts

Bioeng Transl Med. 2020 Sep 3;5(3):e10181. doi: 10.1002/btm2.10181. eCollection 2020 Sep.


Hydrogel-based three-dimensional (3D) cellular models are attractive for bioengineering and pharmaceutical development as they can more closely resemble the cellular function of native tissue outside of the body. In general, these models are composed of tissue specific cells embedded within a support material, such as a hydrogel. As hydrogel properties directly affect cell function, hydrogel composition is often tailored to the cell type(s) of interest and the functional objective of the model. Here, we develop a parametric analysis and screening method to identify suitable encapsulation conditions for the formation of myotubes from primary murine myoblasts in methacryloyl gelatin (GelMA) hydrogels. The effect of the matrix properties on the myotube formation was investigated by varying GelMA weight percent (wt%, which controls gel modulus), cell density, and Matrigel concentration. Contractile myotubes form via myoblast fusion and are characterized by myosin heavy chain (MyHC) expression. To efficiently screen the gel formulations, we developed a fluorescence-based plate reader assay to quantify MyHC staining in the gel samples, as a metric of myotube formation. We observed that lower GelMA wt% resulted in increased MyHC staining (myotube formation). The cell density did not significantly affect MyHC staining, while the inclusion of Matrigel increased MyHC staining, however, a concentration dependent effect was not observed. These findings were supported by the observation of spontaneously contracting myotubes in samples selected in the initial screen. This work provides a method to rapidly screen hydrogel formulations for the development of 3D cellular models and provides specific guidance on the formulation of gels for myotube formation from primary murine myoblasts in 3D.

Keywords: 3D culture; immunostaining; muscle cells; parametric analysis; primary murine myoblasts; rapid screening.