Biofidelic dynamic compression of human cortical spheroids reproduces neurotrauma phenotypes

Aaron R. Shoemaker, Ian E. Jones, Kira D. Jeffris, Gina Gabrielli, Alyssa G. Togliatti, Rajeswari Pichika, Eric Martin, Evangelos Kiskinis, Colin K. Franz, John D. Finan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Fundamental questions about patient heterogeneity and human-specific pathophysiology currently obstruct progress towards a therapy for traumatic brain injury (TBI). Human in vitro models have the potential to address these questions. Three-dimensional spheroidal cell culture protocols for human-origin neural cells have several important advantages over their two-dimensional monolayer counterparts. Three-dimensional spheroidal cultures may mature more quickly, develop more biofidelic electrophysiological activity and/or reproduce some aspects of brain architecture. Here, we present the first human in vitro model of non-penetrating TBI employing three-dimensional spheroidal cultures. We used a custom-built device to traumatize these spheroids in a quantifiable, repeatable and biofidelic manner, and correlated the heterogeneous mechanical strain field with the injury phenotype. Trauma reduced cell viability, mitochondrial membrane potential and spontaneous synchronous electrophysiological activity in the spheroids. Electrophysiological deficits emerged at lower injury severities than changes in cell viability. Also, traumatized spheroids secreted lactate dehydrogenase, a marker of cell damage, and neurofilament light chain, a promising clinical biomarker of neurotrauma. These results demonstrate that three-dimensional human in vitro models can reproduce important phenotypes of neurotrauma in vitro.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberdmm048916
JournalDMM Disease Models and Mechanisms
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Human
  • In vitro
  • Spheroid
  • Traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Microbiology (miscellaneous)
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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