Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is the most common motor neuron disease. ALS is believed to be a non-cell autonomous condition, as other cell types, including astrocytes, have been implicated in disease pathogenesis. Hence, to facilitate the development of therapeutics against ALS, it is crucial to better understand the interactions between astrocytes and neural cells. Furthermore, cell culture assays are needed that mimic the complexity of cell to cell communication at the same time as they provide control over the different microenvironmental parameters. Here, we aim to validate a previously developed microfluidic system for an astrocyte-neuron cell culture platform, in which astrocytes have been genetically modified to overexpress either a human wild-type (WT) or a mutated form of the super oxide dismutase enzyme 1 (SOD1). Cortical neural cells were co-cultured with infected astrocytes and studied for up to two weeks. Using our microfluidic device that prevents direct cell to cell contact, we could evaluate neural cell response in the vicinity of astrocytes. We showed that neuronal cell density was reduced by about 45% when neurons were co-cultured with SOD-mutant astrocytes. Moreover, we demonstrated that SOD-WT overexpressing astrocytes reduced oxidative stress on cortical neurons that were in close metabolic contact. In contrast, cortical neurons in metabolic contact with SOD-mutant astrocytes lost their synapsin protein expression after severe glutamate treatment, an indication of the toxicity potentiating effect of the SOD-mutant enzyme.
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