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INTRODUCTION: Pre-clinical testing of small molecules for therapeutic development across many pathologies relies on the use of in-vitro and in-vivo models. When designed and implemented well, these models serve to predict the clinical outcome as well as the toxicity of the evaluated therapies. The two-dimensional (2D) reductionist approach where cells are incubated in a mono-layer on hard plastic microtiter plates is relatively inexpensive but not physiologically relevant. In contrast, well developed and applied three dimensional (3D) in vitro models could be employed to bridge the gap between 2D in vitro primary screening and expensive in vivo rodent models by incorporating key features of the tissue microenvironment to explore differentiation, cortical development, cancers and various neuronal dysfunctions. These features include an extracellular matrix, co-culture, tension and perfusion and could replace several hundred rodents in the drug screening validation cascade. METHODS: Human neural progenitor cells from middle brain (ReN VM, Merck Millipore, UK) were expanded as instructed by the supplier (Merck Millipore, UK), and then seeded in 96-well low-attachment plates (Corning, UK) to form multicellular spheroids followed by adding a Matrigel layer to mimic extracellular matrix around neural stem cell niche. ReN VM cells were then differentiated via EGF and bFGF deprivation for 7 days and were imaged at day 7. Radiotherapy was mimicked via gamma-radiation at 2Gy in the absence and presence of selected DYRK1A inhibitors Harmine, INDY and Leucettine 41 (L41). Cell viability was measured by AlamarBlue assay. Immunofluorescence staining was used to assess cell pluripotency marker SOX2 and differentiation marker GFAP. RESULTS: After 7 days of differentiation, neuron early differentiation marker (GFAP, red) started to be expressed among the cells expressing neural stem cell marker SOX2 (green). Radiation treatment caused significant morphology change including the reduced viability of the spheroids. These spheroids also revealed sensitizing potential of DYRK1A inhibitors tested in this study, including Harmine, INDY and L41. DISCUSSION & CONCLUSIONS: Combined with the benefit of greatly reducing the issues associated with in vivo rodent models, including reducing numbers of animals used in a drug screening cascade, cost, ethics, and potential animal welfare burden, we feel the well-developed and applied 3D neural spheroid model presented in this study will provide a crucial tool to evaluate combinatorial therapies, optimal drug concentrations and treatment dosages.

Original publication




Journal article


Biochem Biophys Res Commun

Publication Date





535 - 542


Cellular image analysis, DYRK1, Drug candidates, Human midbrain, Neural progenitor cells, Neurotoxicity, Preclinical model, Three-dimensional in vitro model