Organotypic liver culture models: Meeting current challenges in toxicity testing
The cytoskeleton is important in the maintenance of cellular morphology and differentiated function in a number of cell types, including hepatocytes. In this study, adult rat hepatocytes sandwiched between two layers of collagen gel were compared to cells cultured on a single collagen gel for differences in the organization and expression of the cytoskeletal proteins actin and tubulin. Hepatocytes cultured between two layers of hydrated rat tail tendon collagen (sandwich gel) morphologically resembled cells in intact liver for several weeks. Actin filaments (F-actin) in these hepatocytes were concentrated under the plasma membrane in regions of cell-cell contact. In contrast, hepatocytes cultured on a single collagen gel were flattened and motile and had F-actin containing stress fibers. This was accompanied by a severalfold increase in actin mRNA. Microtubules formed an interwoven network in hepatocytes cultured in a sandwich gel, but in single gel cultures they formed long parallel arrays extending out to the cell periphery. Tubulin mRNA was severalfold greater in hepatocytes cultured on a single gel. Fibronectin and laminin staining were greater in single gel cultures, and these proteins were concentrated in fibrils radiating from the cell periphery. Overlaying a second collagen gel onto hepatocytes that had been cultured on a single gel (double gel rescue) reversed cell spreading and reduced stress fibers. Double gel rescue also resulted in a decrease in actin and tubulin mRNA to levels present in sandwich gel cultures and freshly isolated hepatocytes. These results show that the configuration of the external matrix has a dynamic effect on cytoskeletal proteins in cultured rat hepatocytes.