Physiological Mineralization during In Vitro Osteogenesis in a Biomimetic Spheroid Culture Model

Maximilian Koblenzer*, Marek Weiler, Athanassios Fragoulis, Stephan Rütten, Thomas Pufe, Holger Jahr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Bone health-targeting drug development strategies still largely rely on inferior 2D in vitro screenings. We aimed at developing a scaffold-free progenitor cell-based 3D biomineralization model for more physiological high-throughput screenings. MC3T3-E1 pre-osteoblasts were cultured in α-MEM with 10% FCS, at 37 °C and 5% CO2 for up to 28 days, in non-adherent V-shaped plates to form uniformly sized 3D spheroids. Osteogenic differentiation was induced by 10 mM β-glycerophosphate and 50 µg/mL ascorbic acid. Mineralization stages were assessed through studying expression of marker genes, alkaline phosphatase activity, and calcium deposition by histochemistry. Mineralization quality was evaluated by Fourier transformed infrared (FTIR) and scanning electron microscopic (SEM) analyses and quantified by micro-CT analyses. Expression profiles of selected early- and late-stage osteoblast differentiation markers indicated a well-developed 3D biomineralization process with strongly upregulated Col1a1, Bglap and Alpl mRNA levels and type I collagen- and osteocalcin-positive immunohistochemistry (IHC). A dynamic biomineralization process with increasing mineral densities was observed during the second half of the culture period. SEM-Energy-Dispersive X-ray analyses (EDX) and FTIR ultimately confirmed a native bone-like hydroxyapatite mineral deposition ex vivo. We thus established a robust and versatile biomimetic, and high-throughput compatible, cost-efficient spheroid culture model with a native bone-like mineralization for improved pharmacological ex vivo screenings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2702
Number of pages23
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2022


  • Biomimetics
  • Calcification, Physiologic
  • Durapatite
  • Osteoblasts/metabolism
  • Osteogenesis


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