• hepatocyte;
  • liver tissue engineering;
  • multilayered culture;
  • PDMS membrane;
  • co-culture


To engineer reliable in vitro liver tissue equivalents expressing differentiated hepatic functions at a high level and over a long period of time, it appears necessary to have liver cells organized into a three-dimensional (3D) multicellular structure closely resembling in vivo liver cytoarchitecture and promoting both homotypic and heterotypic cell–cell contacts. In addition, such high density 3D hepatocyte cultures should be adequately supplied with nutrients and particularly with oxygen since it is one of the most limiting nutrients in hepatocyte cultures. Here we propose a novel but simple hepatocyte culture system in a microplate-based format, enabling high density hepatocyte culture as a stable 3D-multilayer. Multilayered co-cultures of hepatocytes and 3T3 fibroblasts were engineered on collagen-conjugated thin polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) membranes which were assembled on bottomless frames to enable oxygen diffusion through the membrane. To achieve high density multilayered co-cultures, primary rat hepatocytes were seeded in large excess what was rendered possible due to the removal of oxygen shortage generally encountered in microplate-based hepatocyte cultures. Hepatocyte/3T3 fibroblasts multilayered co-cultures were maintained for at least 1 week; the so-cultured cells were normoxic and sustained differentiated metabolic functions like albumin and urea synthesis at higher levels than hepatocytes monocultures. Such a microplate-based cell culture system appears suitable for engineering in vitro miniature liver tissues for implantation, bioartificial liver (BAL) development, or chemical/drug screening. © 2011 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Biotechnol. Prog., 2011.