A Microphysiological Cell-Culturing System for Pharmacokinetic Drug Exposure and High-Resolution Imaging of Arrays of 3D Microtissues

Front Pharmacol. 2021 Dec 21;12:785851. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2021.785851. eCollection 2021.


Understanding the pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic (PK/PD)-relationship of a drug candidate is key to determine effective, yet safe treatment regimens for patients. However, current testing strategies are inefficient in characterizing in vivo responses to fluctuating drug concentrations during multi-day treatment cycles. Methods based on animal models are resource-intensive and require time, while traditional in vitro cell-culturing methods usually do not provide temporally-resolved information on the effects of in vivo-like drug exposure scenarios. To address this issue, we developed a microfluidic system to 1) culture arrays of three-dimensional spheroids in vitro, to 2) apply specific dynamic drug exposure profiles, and to 3) in-situ analyze spheroid growth and the invoked drug effects in 3D by means of 2-photon microscopy at tissue and single-cell level. Spheroids of fluorescently-labeled T-47D breast cancer cells were monitored under perfusion-culture conditions at short time intervals over three days and exposed to either three 24 h-PK-cycles or a dose-matched constant concentration of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase inhibitor BYL719. While the overall efficacy of the two treatment regimens was similar, spheroids exposed to the PK profile displayed cycle-dependent oscillations between regression and regrowth. Spheroids treated with a constant BYL719 concentration regressed at a steady, albeit slower rate. At a single-cell level, the cell density in BYL719-treated spheroids oscillated in a concentration-dependent manner. Our system represents a versatile tool for in-depth preclinical characterization of PK/PD parameters, as it enables an evaluation of drug efficacy and/or toxicity under realistic exposure conditions.

Keywords: drug testing; high-resolution imaging; microphysiological systems; pharmacokinetics; spheroids.