In previous studies human mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) maintained the "stemness" of human hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs) through direct cell-cell contact in two-dimensional co-culture systems. We establish a three-dimensional (3D) co-culture system based on a custom-made chip, the 3(D)-KITChip, as an in vitro model system of the human hematopoietic stem cell niche. This array of up to 625 microcavities, with 300 mu m size in each orientation, was inserted into a microfluidic bioreactor. The microcavities of the 3(D)-KITChip were inoculated with human bone marrow MSCs together with umbilical cord blood HPCs. MSCs used the microcavities as a scaffold to build a complex 3D mesh. HPCs were distributed three-dimensionally inside this MSC network and formed -catenin- and N-cadherin-based intercellular junctions to the surrounding MSCs. Using RT2-PCR and western blots, we demonstrate that a proportion of HPCs maintained the expression of CD34 throughout a culture period of 14 days. In colony-forming unit assays, the hematopoietic stem cell plasticity remained similar after 14 days of bioreactor co-culture, whereas monolayer co-cultures showed increasing signs of HPC differentiation and loss of stemness. These data support the notion that the 3D microenvironment created within the microcavity array preserves vital stem cell functions of HPCs more efficiently than conventional co-culture systems.
- Hematopoietic progenitor cells
- Mesenchymal stromal cells
- Stem cell niche
- Microcavity array