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Despite recent advances in the field of microphysiological systems (MPS), availability of models capable of mimicking the interactions between the nervous system and innervated tissues is still limited. This represents a significant challenge in identifying the underlying processes of various pathological conditions, including neuropathic, cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.

In our most recent publication “Cancer-mediated axonal guidance of sensory neurons in a microelectrode-based innervation MPS”, published in Biofabrication, Phd student Matthijs van der Moolen and team present a compartmentalized 3D coculture system that enables physiologically relevant tissue innervation while recording neuronal excitability. By integrating custom microelectrode arrays into tailored glass chips microfabricated via selective laser-etching, we developed an entirely novel class of innervation MPSs (INV-MPS). This INV-MPS allows for manipulation, visualization, and electrophysiological analysis of individual axons innervating complex 3D tissues. Here, we focused on sensory innervation of 3D tumor tissue as a model case study since cancer-induced pain represents a major unmet medical need. The system was compared with existing nociception models and successfully replicated axonal chemoattraction mediated by nerve growth factor (NGF). Remarkably, in the absence of NGF, 3D cancer spheroids cocultured in the adjacent compartment induced sensory neurons to consistently cross the separating barrier and establish fine innervation. Moreover, we observed that crossing sensory fibers could be chemically excited by distal application of known pain-inducing agonists only when cocultured with cancer cells. To our knowledge, this is the first system showcasing morphological and electrophysiological analysis of 3D-innervated tumor tissue in vitro, paving the way for a plethora of studies into innervation-related diseases and improving our understanding of underlying pathophysiology.

Matthijs van der Moolen, Andrea Lovera, Fulya Ersoy, Sacha Mommo, Peter Loskill and Paolo Cesare
Cancer-mediated axonal guidance of sensory neurons in a microelectrode-based innervation MPS
Biofabrication, 2024, in press, DOI:10.1088/1758-5090/ad218a

You can find the paper here.