Extracellular matrix (ECM) in the liver affects the phenotype of both hepatocytes and non-parenchymal cells. To be able to mimic in vivo liver function for extracorporeal hepatic support using human cell lines, a necessary step is to upregulate the function normally seen in monolayer culture. 3-D spheroid colonies were formed by culturing single HepG2 cells encapsulated in alginate beads. ECM expression in these cultures was compared to monolayer Hep G2 cultures. The following ECM proteins were detected immunohistochemically:- collagens 1, III, V and VI, the glycoproteins fibronectin, tenascin and vitronectin, and the basement membrane protein laminin. In 3-D cultures, all proteins except tenascin were strongly expressed, as compared with weak or undetectable expression in monolayer cultures, even with 10-fold increases in the antibody concentration used. In conclusion, we have demonstrated that the 3-D environment created by alginate encapsulation of cell lines leads to cell behaviour mimicking that in vivo.
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