Development of 3D in vitro Neuronal Models Using Biomimetic Ultrashort Self-Assembling Peptide-Based Scaffolds

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The interactions between cells and their microenvironment influence their morphological features and regulate important cellular processes. To understand deleterious neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, there is an immense need to develop efficient in vitro 3D models that can recapitulate complex organs such as the brain. Ultrashort self- assembling peptides offer a revolutionary tool for generating tunable and well-defined 3D in vitro neural tissues capable of recreating complex cellular characteristics, and tissue-level responses. Herein, we describe the use of ultrashort self-assembling peptide-based scaffolds for the development of functional 3D neuronal models including an in vitro model for Parkinson’s disease. Both primary mouse embryonic dopaminergic neurons and human dopaminergic neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells were found biocompatible in our peptide-based models. Using microelectrode arrays, we recorded spontaneous activity in dopaminergic neurons encapsulated within these 3D peptide scaffolds for more than 1 month without a decrease in signal intensity. In addition, we demonstrate a 3D bioprinted model of dopaminergic neurons inspired by the mouse brain using an extrusion-based 3D robotic bioprinting technology. We used our 3D in vitro neuronal models to study the effect of both gabapentin and pregabalin on the development of dopaminergic neurons. Pregabalin and gabapentin are frequently regarded as first-line therapies for a variety of neuropathic pain syndromes, regardless of the underlying cause. Our results showed that both drugs can interfere with the neurogenesis and morphogenesis of ventral midbrain dopaminergic neurons during early brain development. Finally, to gain a better understanding of the influence of cell-cell and cell- matrix interactions on cellular behavior and function in 3D cultured cells within our peptide-based scaffolds compared to the ones cultured in 2D, we studied the metabolic and transcriptomic profiles of 2D and 3D cultured cells. 2D cultured cells exhibited distinct metabolic and transcriptomic profiles compared to the 3D cultured cells. Advancements in the fields of 3D in vitro modeling, 3D bioprinting, and biomaterials are of extreme value for the development of efficient models suitable for investigating disease-specific pathways, aiding the discovery of novel treatments, and promoting tissue regeneration.
Date of AwardNov 2022
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorCharlotte Hauser (Supervisor)


  • Ultrashort peptides
  • self-assembling peptides
  • 3D models
  • 3D bioprinting
  • Parkinson's disease
  • metabolomics

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