Aligned Schwann cells within 3D tissue-like gels provide guidance to regenerating neurites

Georgiou, M.; East, E.; Loughlin, J.; Golding, J. and Phillips, J. (2011). Aligned Schwann cells within 3D tissue-like gels provide guidance to regenerating neurites. In: 10th European Meeting on Glial Cells in Health and Disease, 13-17 Sep 2011, Prague, Czech Republic.




There is a clinical demand to shorten the delay of reinnervation and improve functional recovery after peripheral nerve injury. A peripheral nerve repair device with the ability to direct and promote cellular growth across a lesion would be a promising alternative to nerve autograft repair, which is the current gold standard treatment. The growth of axons across a lesion is most effective when supported by columns of aligned Schwann cells, as found in an autograft. Here we report a technique to generate aligned Schwann cells within a stable and robust 3D collagen matrix, providing a cellular biomaterial that confers alignment on regenerating neurons.
Collagen gels containing F7 Schwann cells were tethered for 24 h to permit cellular self-alignment and then plastic compressed by the rapid removal of the interstitial fluid from fully hydrated gels. This process generates stable tissue-like gels with cells situated within a dense, strong, three-dimensional matrix. Cell alignment was monitored before and after plastic compression using CellTracker dye and confocal image analysis. Dissociated dorsal root ganglia (DRG) cells were cultured on the surface of the material for 3 days and neurite growth was quantified using immunostaining and confocal microscopy.
Chains of aligned Schwann cells were formed within the collagen matrix and persisted following plastic compression. This robust, aligned cellular biomaterial promotes and guides neuronal growth in a manner that mimics a nerve autograft. The next stage of this work is to integrate this cellular material into a repair device. Plastic compressed gels containing aligned Schwann cells have been rolled into columns which can then be packed together. In vitro testing of this engineered endoneurium, within a silicone outer tube, demonstrates the potential of such a device to function as an implantable conduit for peripheral nerve repair.

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