Skin-Nerve Co-Culture Systems for Disease Modeling and Drug Discovery

Tissue Eng Part C Methods. 2021 Feb;27(2):89-99. doi: 10.1089/ten.TEC.2020.0296. Epub 2021 Feb 2.


Prominent clinical problems related to the skin-nerve interface include barrier dysfunction and erythema, but it is the symptoms of pain and itch that most often lead patients to seek medical treatment. Tissue-engineered innervated skin models provide an excellent solution for studying the mechanisms underlying neurocutaneous disorders for drug screening, and cutaneous device development. Innervated skin substitutes provide solutions beyond traditional monolayer cultures and have advantages that make them preferable to in vivo animal studies for certain applications, such as measuring somatosensory transduction. The tissue-engineered innervated skin models replicate the complex stratified epidermis that provides barrier function in native skin, a feature that is lacking in monolayer co-cultures, while allowing for a level of detail in measurement of nerve morphology and function that cannot be achieved in animal models. In this review, the advantages and disadvantages of different cell sources and scaffold materials will be discussed and a presentation of the current state of the field is reviewed. Impact statement A review of the current state of innervated skin substitutes and the considerations that need to be addressed when developing these models. Tissue-engineered skin substitutes are customizable and provide barrier function allowing for screening of topical drugs and for studying nerve function.

Keywords: co-culture; nerve; skin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Drug Discovery*
  • Epidermis
  • Humans
  • Skin
  • Skin, Artificial*