Three-dimensional co-culture of human hepatocytes and mesenchymal stem cells: improved functionality in long-term bioreactor cultures

Sofia P. Rebelo, Rita Costa, Marta M Silva, Paulo Marcelino, Catarina Brito, Paula M Alves

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50 Citations (Scopus)


The development of human cell models that can efficiently restore hepatic functionality and cope with the reproducibility and scalability required for preclinical development poses a significant effort in tissue engineering and biotechnology. Primary cultures of human hepatocytes (HHs), the preferred model for in vitro toxicity testing, dedifferentiate and have short-term viability in two-dimensional (2D) cultures. In this study, hepatocytes isolated from human liver tissue were co-cultured with human bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (BM-MSCs) as spheroids in automated, computer-controlled, stirred-tank bioreactors with perfusion operation mode. A dual-step inoculation strategy was used, resulting in an inner core of parenchymal liver tissue with an outer layer of stromal cells. Hepatocyte polarization and morphology as well as the mesenchymal phenotype of BM-MSCs were maintained throughout the culture period and the crosstalk between the two cell types was depicted. The viability, compact morphology and phenotypic stability of hepatocytes were enhanced in co-cultures in comparison to monocultures. Gene expression of phase I and II enzymes was higher and CYP3A4 and CYP1A2 activity was inducible until week 2 of culture, being applicable for repeated-dose toxicity testing. Moreover, the excretory activity was maintained in co-cultures and the biosynthetic hepatocellular functions (albumin and urea secretion) were not affected by the presence of BM-MSCs. This strategy might be extended to other hepatic cell sources and the characterization performed brings knowledge on the interplay between the two cell types, which may be relevant for therapeutic applications. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal Of Tissue Engineering And Regenerative Medicine
Early online date29 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


  • BM-MSCs
  • human hepatocytes
  • long-term
  • spheroids
  • stirred-tank bioreactor
  • three-dimensional


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