Sood et al. published in 2016 an interesting article about the effect of extracellular matrix (ECM) on in vitro neuronal cells culture: Fetal brain extracellular matrix boosts neuronal network formation in 3D bioengineered model of cortical brain tissue “.

The aim of the study was to study the effects of fetal and adult ECM and matricellular proteins on neurons by means of an in vitro 3D model.

First they reviewed brain ECM composition: it is mainly composed of lecticans, but also of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), in particular hyaluronic acid and a low fibrous protein level like collagen and fibronectin, with a ratio of GAG to collagen around 10:1.

They developed a donut-shape 3D scaffold with extracted porcine brain ECM, with an axon-rich middle region representing the white matter, surrounding by a region containing cell bodies like in the grey matter. Then they compared fetal and adult porcine brain ECM, with also commercial matrices, for example Matrigel® and collagen I hydrogel. They analyzed matrix compositions and they assessed primary rat neuron viability, network formation, calcium signaling and electrophysiology in the different matrices.

The results showed that brain ECM and matricellular proteins significally improved cell viability, neural network formation and decreased glutamate release. Fetal brain ECM induced superior neuronal network formation, calcium signaling and spontaneous spiking activity compared to adult brain ECM.

These results were obtained with extracted porcine brain ECM  and primary rat neurons. They highlight the impact of ECM on neuronal cell growth, and thus the importance to take into account the ECM component in in vitro studies.

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