Mental disorders have high prevalence, but the efficacy of existing therapeutics is limited, in part, because the pathogenic mechanisms remain enigmatic. Current models of neural circuitry include animal models and post-mortem brain tissue, which have allowed enormous progress in understanding the pathophysiology of mental disorders. However, these models limit the ability to assess the functional alterations in short-range and long-range network connectivity between brain regions that are implicated in many mental disorders, e.g., schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders. This work addresses these limitations by developing an in vitro model of the human brain that models the in vivo cerebral tract environment. In this study, microfabrication and stem cell differentiation techniques were combined to develop an in vitro cerebral tract model that anchors human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cerebral organoids (COs) and provides a scaffold to promote the formation of a functional connecting neuronal tract. Two designs of a Cerebral Organoid Connectivity Apparatus (COCA) were fabricated using SU-8 photoresist. The first design contains a series of spikes which anchor the CO to the COCA (spiked design), whereas the second design contains flat supporting structures with open holes in a grid pattern to anchor the organoids (grid design); both designs allow effective media exchange. Morphological and functional analyses reveal the expression of key neuronal markers as well as functional activity and signal propagation along cerebral tracts connecting CO pairs. The reported in vitro models enable the investigation of critical neural circuitry involved in neurodevelopmental processes and has the potential to help devise personalized and targeted therapeutic strategies.
Keywords: cerebral organoid; cerebral tract; microfabrication; microfluidics; neuronal culture; organ-on-a-chip; organotypic slice.