• 3D cell culture;
  • spheroids;
  • liver tissue model;
  • elastin-like polypeptide;
  • cell morphology;
  • amide coupling


Though two-dimensional systems have yielded some success in deriving morphological and functional markers of hepatocyte culture, they largely fail to capture the three-dimensional organization, long-term viability, and functionality of the hepatic tissue. We have engineered a system for inducing self-assembly of model H35 rat hepatoma spheroids using a copolymer comprised of biocompatible elastin-like polypeptide (ELP) chemically conjugated to positively charged polyethyleneimine (PEI). We have achieved a conjugation ratio of 30 mol %, though our studies analyzing spheroid organization kinetics indicate conjugate ratios of 5 mol % and greater to be optimal for cell culture based on least variability in spheroid sizes and minimum incidence of overgrown aggregates. Furthermore, our ELP–PEI system indicated the potential for influencing ultimate spheroid dimensions, with spheroid size inversely related to polyelectrolyte conjugation. Overall, this study provides a good starting point to investigate functional correlations between spheroid size and functional markers and their future use as an in vitro diagnostic or tissue engineering tool. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biomed Mater Res Part A: 102A: 852–861, 2014.