Neurovascular unit (NVU) is a basic unit in the brain, including neurons, glial cells, blood vessels and extracellular matrix. This concept implies the importance of a three-dimensional (3D) culture model including these cell types for investigating brain functions. However, little is known about the construction of an in vitro 3D NVU model. In the present study, we aimed at constructing 3D neurovascular tissues by combining in vitro neurogenesis and angiogenesis models using a microfluidic platform, which is a critical step toward the NVU construction in vitro. Three gel conditions, which were fibrin gel, fibrin-Matrigel mixed gel and fibrin-hyaluronan mixed gel, were investigated to optimize the gel components in terms of neurogenesis and angiogenesis. First, fibrin-Matrigel mixed gel was found to promote neural stem cell (NSC) differentiation into neurons and neurite extension. In particular, 3D neural networks were constructed in 2-8 mg/ml fibrin-Matrigel mixed gel. Second, we found that capillary-like structures were also formed in the fibrin-Matrigel mixed gel by coculturing brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMECs) and human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Finally, we combined both neural and vascular culture models and succeeded in constructing 3D neurovascular tissues with an optimized seeding condition of NSCs, BMECs and MSCs.
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