Inexpensive, disposable and transparent, plasma treated polystyrene, or tissue culture plastic (TCP), is the most extensively used cell culture material, not only because of its aforementioned qualities but because of its biological affinity. Mammalian cells are anchorage dependent, relying on their connections with other cells, the extracellular matrix (ECM) and/or material substrates to control vital functions such as intra and extracellular communication, apoptosis (programmed cell death), morphology, function and differentiation. Transmembrane proteins, integrins and cell adhesion molecules (CAMs), anchor to their surroundings and send signals through the cytoskeleton that drive these processes . To yield functional and morphologically accurate cell populations in tissue culture, platforms must mimic the biological environment from which the specific cell type is derived. Untreated polystyrene surfaces are composed mainly of hydrophobic phenyl groups, not found naturally in the body and detrimental to cell anchorage. Plasma treatment replaces these phenyls with hydrophilic carbonyl, hydroxyl or amine containing functional groups (depending on the process gas) that are much more suitable for cell adhesion . In addition, the negatively charged (air or oxygen) and hydrophilic surface of tissue culture plastic increase nonspecific adsorption of cell media constituents and enable subsequent coatings that further promote cell adhesion.
Although commercially available tissue culture plastic vessels (Plasma treated Flasks, Plates and Wells) are readily available for cell culture, researchers may benefit from adding plasma treatment to their own protocols for numerous reasons. For example, polystyrene surfaces undergo hydrophobic recovery following plasma treatment, lowering the surface energy and increasing the water contact angle to anywhere between 50 and 80 degrees depending on the supplier . The contact angle achieved reflects the availability of hydrophilic functional groups, the optimal number of which may vary between different cell types. Plasma treatment can be used to optimize contact angle for a specific application through experimentation. Additionally, a 50-80 degree contact angle is not sufficient for the addition of many biologically relevant coatings. Enhanced surface wetting achieved by plasma treatment improves the quality of biomimetic coatings. Finally, customized TCP vessels are more appropriate for some applications than commercial TCP vessels. Polystyrene films, scaffolds and micromolded devices provide researchers with new opportunities to mimic the biological environment and thus, improve cell proliferation, morphology and function.
Below, you will find papers in which polystyrene is treated by Harrick Plasma cleaners to improve cell adhesion and enhance cell culture studies.
- Wang Y, Balowski J, Phillips C, Phillips R, Sims C, and Allbritton N. “Benchtop micromolding of polystyrene by soft lithography”. Lab Chip (2011) 11: 3089–3097 1039/c1lc20281b
- Chou Y-F, Huang W, Dunn JC, Miller TA, and Wu BM. “The effect of biomimetic apatite structure on osteoblast viability, proliferation, and gene expression”. Biomaterials (2005) 26: 285–295 1016/j.biomaterials.2004.02.030
- Dumont CM, Piselli JM, Kazi N, Bowman E, Li G, Linhardt RJ, Temple S, Dai G, and Thompson DM. “Factors Released from Endothelial Cells Exposed to Flow Impact Adhesion, Proliferation, and Fate Choice in the Adult Neural Stem Cell Lineage”. Stem Cells Dev. (2017) 26: 1199-1213 1089/scd.2016.0350.
- Yaron JR, Ziegler CP, Tran TH, Glenn HL, and Meldrum DR. “A convenient, optimized pipeline for isolation, fluorescence microscopy and molecular analysis of live single cells”. Biol Proced Online (2014) 16: 1 1186/1480-9222-16-9
Supplemental References (Do Note Report Using Harrick Plasma Equipment)
 Khalili AA, Ahmad MR. “A Review of Cell Adhesion Studies for Biomedical and Biological Applications”. Int J Mol Sci. (2015) 16: 18149-84.
 Lerman MJ, Lembong J, Muramoto S, Gillen G, Fisher JP. “The Evolution of Polystyrene as a Cell Culture Material”. Tissue Eng Part B Rev. (2018) 24: 359–372.
 Zeiger AS, Hinton B, Van vliet KJ. “Why the dish makes a difference: quantitative comparison of polystyrene culture surfaces.” Acta Biomater. (2013) 9: 735461.