A longstanding goal in biomedical research has been to create organotypic cocultures that faithfully represent native tissue environments. There is presently great interest in representative culture models of the lung, which is a particularly challenging tissue to recreate in vitro. This study used magnetic levitation in conjunction with magnetic nanoparticles as a means of creating an organized three-dimensional (3D) coculture of the bronchiole that sequentially layers cells in a manner similar to native tissue architecture. The 3D coculture model was assembled from four human cell types in the bronchiole: endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells (SMCs), fibroblasts, and epithelial cells (EpiCs). This study represents the first effort to combine these particular cell types into an organized bronchiole coculture. These cell layers were first cultured in 3D by magnetic levitation, and then manipulated into contact with a custom-made magnetic pen, and again cultured for 48 h. Hematoxylin and eosin staining of the resulting coculture showed four distinct layers within the 3D coculture. Immunohistochemistry confirmed the phenotype of each of the four cell types and showed organized extracellular matrix formation, particularly, with collagen type I. Positive stains for CD31, von Willebrand factor, smooth muscle α-actin, vimentin, and fibronectin demonstrate the maintenance of the phenotype for endothelial cells, SMCs, and fibroblasts. Positive stains for mucin-5AC, cytokeratin, and E-cadherin after 7 days with and without 1% fetal bovine serum showed that EpiCs maintained the phenotype and function. This study validates magnetic levitation as a method for the rapid creation of organized 3D cocultures that maintain the phenotype and induce extracellular matrix formation.
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