We describe a new scaffold-free three-dimensional (3D) cell culture model using cholesteryl ester based lyotropic liquid crystal (LC) substrates. Keratinocytes were deposited randomly on the LC surface where they self-assembled into 3D microtissues or keratinospheroids. The cell density required to form spheroids was optimized. We investigated cell viability using dead/live cell assays. The adhesion characteristics of cells within the microtissues were determined using histological sectioning and immunofluorescence staining. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) was used to characterize the biochemistry of the keratinospheroids. We found that both cells and microtissues could migrate on the LC surface. The viability study indicated approximately 80% viability of cells in the microtissues up to 20 days of culture. Strong intercellular adhesion was observed in the stratification of the multi-layered microspheroids using field emission-scanning electron microscopy (FE-SEM) and histochemical staining. The cytoskeleton and vinculins of the cells in the microtissues were expressed diffusely, but the microtissues were enriched with lipids and nucleic acids, which indicates close resemblance to the conditions in vivo. The basic 3D culture model based on LC may be used for cell and microtissue migration studies in response to cytochemical treatment.
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