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Mounting evidence supports the importance of the intestinal epithelial barrier and its permeability both in physiological and pathological conditions. Conventional in vitro models to evaluate intestinal permeability rely on the formation of tightly packed epithelial monolayers grown on hard substrates. These two-dimensional models lack the cellular and mechanical components of the non-epithelial compartment of the intestinal barrier, the stroma, which are key contributors to the barrier permeability in vivo. Thus, advanced in vitro models approaching the in vivo tissue composition are fundamental to improve precision in drug absorption predictions, to provide a better understanding of the intestinal biology, and to faithfully represent related diseases. Here, we generate photo-crosslinked gelatine methacrylate (GelMA)—poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA) hydrogel co-networks that provide the required mechanical and biochemical features to mimic both the epithelial and stromal compartments of the intestinal mucosa, i.e. they are soft, cell adhesive and cell-loading friendly, and suitable for long-term culturing. We show that fibroblasts can be embedded in the GelMA-PEGDA hydrogels while epithelial cells can grow on top to form a mature epithelial monolayer that exhibits barrier properties which closely mimic those of the intestinal barrier in vivo, as shown by the physiologically relevant transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER) and permeability values. The presence of fibroblasts in the artificial stroma compartment accelerates the formation of the epithelial monolayer and boosts the recovery of the epithelial integrity upon temporary barrier disruption, demonstrating that our system is capable of successfully reproducing the interaction between different cellular compartments. As such, our hydrogel co-networks offer a technologically simple yet sophisticated approach to produce functional three-dimensional (3D) in vitro models of epithelial barriers with epithelial and stromal cells arranged in a spatially relevant manner and near-physiological functionality.
CitationVila, A. [et al.]. Biofabrication. "Biofabrication", 7 Febrer 2020, vol. 12, núm. 2, p. 025008:1-025008:16.
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