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Electrophysiological properties of neurons grown on soft polymer scaffolds reveal the potential to develop neuromimetic culture environments

Evans, Michael G; Al-Shakli, Arwa ; Chari, Divya M


Michael G Evans

Arwa Al-Shakli


Tissue engineering methodologies for various physiological systems are seeing a significant trend towards 3-D cell culture in or on ‘soft’ polymeric hydrogel materials, widely considered to provide a more biomimetic environment for cell growth versus ‘hard’ materials such as glass or plastic. Progress has been slower with 3-D neural cell culture with current studies overwhelmingly reliant on hard substrates. Accordingly, our knowledge of the alterations in electrochemical properties of neurons propagated in soft materials is relatively limited. In this study, primary cortical neurons and glial cells were seeded onto the surface of collagen hydrogels and grown in vitro for 7-8 days. At this time neurons had formed a complex neurite web interspersed with astrocytes. Neuronal patch clamp recordings revealed voltage-gated Na+ and K+ currents in voltage clamp and action potentials in current clamp. When measured at voltages close to maximum activation, both currents were > 1nA in mean amplitude. When compared to primary cortical neurons cultured on glass coverslips, but otherwise under similar conditions (Evans et al., 2017), the Na+ current from hydrogel neurons was found to be significantly larger although there were no differences in the K+ current amplitude, membrane potential, input resistance or cell capacitance. We speculate that the larger size of the neuronal voltage-dependent Na+ current in the hydrogels is related to the better biomimetic properties of the soft material, being close to values reported for neurons recorded in brain slices. The results highlight the potential benefits offered by neuronal culture on soft and biomimetic polymeric materials for neural tissue engineering studies.

Acceptance Date Oct 2, 2019
Publication Date Jan 10, 2020
Journal Integrative Biology
Print ISSN 1093-4391
Publisher Wiley
Pages 395-403
Keywords primary cortical neurons, collagen hydrogel, patch clamp electrophysiology, voltage-dependent sodium and potassium currents, action potential
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