Cell patterning and neuronal network engineering on parylene-C:SiO2 substrates
Hughes, Mark Antony
Cell patterning platforms support diverse research goals including tissue engineering, the study of cell physiology, and the development of biosensors. Patterning and interfacing with neurons is a particular challenge, being approached via various bioengineering approaches. Such constructs, when optimised, can inform our understanding of neuronal computation and learning, and ultimately aid the development of intelligent neuroprostheses. A fundamental pre-requisite is the ability to dictate the spatial organization and topography of patterned neuronal cells. This thesis details efforts to pattern neurons using photolithographically defined arrays of the polymer parylene-C, printed upon oxidised silicon wafers. Initial work focused on exploring the parylene-C:SiO2 construct as a wide-ranging cell-patterning platform, assessing cell adhesion from both substrate- and cell-centric perspectives. Next, the LUHMES (Lund Human Mesencephalic) cell line was used to explore the potential for construction of interrogatable, topographically-defined neuronal networks. In isolation, LUHMES neurons failed to pattern and did not show any morphological signs of cellular differentiation. However, in the context of a cellular template (the HEK 293 cell line which was found to pattern reliably), LUHMES were able to adhere secondarily on-chip. This co-culture environment promoted morphological differentiation of neurons. As such, HEK 293 cells fulfilled a role analogous to glia, dictating neuronal cell adhesion and generating an environment conducive to neuronal survival. Neurites extended between islands of adherent cell somata. The geometry and configuration of parylene-C influenced the organisation of neurites. With appropriate designs, orthogonal neuronal networks could be created. The dominant guidance cue for neurite growth direction appears to be a diffusible chemotactic agent. HEK 293 cells were later replaced with slower growing human glioma-derived precursors, extracted during tumour debulking surgery. These primary cells patterned accurately on parylene-C and provided a similarly effective, and longer lasting, scaffold for neuronal adhesion.
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