A modular approach to create a neurovascular unit-on-a-chip

In this work, we describe the fabrication and working of a modular microsystem that recapitulates the functions of the Neurovascular Unit. The microdevice comprised a vertical stack of a poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) neural parenchymal chamber separated by a vascular channel via a microporous polycarbonate (PC) membrane. The neural chamber housed a mixture of neurons (~4%), astrocytes (~95%), and microglia (~1%). The vascular channel was lined with a layer of rat brain microvascular endothelial cell line (RBE4). Cellular components in the neural chamber and vascular channel showed viability (>90%). The neural cells fired inhibitory as well as excitatory potentials following 10 days of culture. The endothelial cells showed diluted-acetylated low density lipoprotein (dil-a-LDL) uptake, expressed von Willebrand factor (vWF) and zonula occludens (ZO-1) tight junctions, and showed decreased AlexafluorTM-conjugated dextran leakage across their barriers significantly compared with controls (p < 0.05). When the vascular layer was stimulated with TNF-α for 6 h, about 75% of resident microglia and astrocytes on the neural side were activated significantly (p < 0.05 compared to controls) recapitulating tissue-mimetic responses resembling neuroinflammation. The impact of this microsystem lies in the fact that this biomimetic neurovascular platform might not only be harnessed for obtaining mechanistic insights for neurodegenerative disorders, but could also serve as a potential screening tool for central nervous system (CNS) therapeutics in toxicology and neuroinfectious diseases.

Achyuta, Anil Kumar H., Amy J. Conway, Richard B. Crouse, Emilee C. Bannister, Robin N. Lee, Christopher P. Katnik, Adam A. Behensky, Javier Cuevas, Shivshankar S. Sundaram

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