Bridging the gap between cell culture and live tissue

Stefan Przyborski, Fulvio Gandolfi, Tiziana A.L. Brevini


Traditional in vitro two-dimensional (2-D) culture systems only partly imitate the physiological and biochemical features of cells in their original tissue. In vivo, in organs and tissues, cells are surrounded by a three-dimensional (3-D) organization of supporting matrix and neighbouring cells, and a gradient of chemical and mechanical signals. Furthermore, the presence of blood flow and mechanical movement provides a dynamic environment (Jong et al., 2011). In contrast, traditional in vitro culture, carried out on 2-D plastic or glass substrates, typically provides a static environment, which, however is the base of the present understanding of many biological processes, tissue homeostasis as well as disease.

It is clear that this is not an exact representation of what is happening in vivo and the microenvironment provided by in vitro cell culture models are significantly different and can cause deviations in cell response and behaviour from those distinctive of in vivo tissues.

In order to translate the present basic knowledge in cell control, cell repair and regeneration from the laboratory bench to the clinical application, we need a better understanding of the cell and tissue interactions. This implies a detailed comprehension of the natural tissue environment, with its organization and local signals, in order to more closely mimic what happens in vivo, developing more physiological models for efficient in vitro systems. In particular, it is imperative to understand the role of the environmental cues which can be mainly divided into those of a chemical and mechanical nature.

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