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A novel 3D spheroid model of rheumatoid arthritis synovial tissue incorporating fibroblasts, endothelial cells, and macrophages.
Philippon, Eva M L
van Rooijen, Lisanne J E
Khodadust, Fatemeh
van Hamburg, Jan Piet
van der Laken, Conny J
Tas, Sander W
Front Immunol 2023;14: 1188835

OBJECTIVE: Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a progressive and systemic autoimmune disorder associated with chronic and destructive joint inflammation. The hallmarks of joint synovial inflammation are cellular proliferation, extensive neoangiogenesis and infiltration of immune cells, including macrophages. approaches simulating RA synovial tissue are crucial in preclinical and translational research to evaluate novel diagnostic and/or therapeutic markers. Two-dimensional (2D) settings present very limited physiological proximity as they cannot recapitulate cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions occurring in the three-dimensional (3D) tissue compartment. Here, we present the engineering of a spheroid-based model of RA synovial tissue which mimics 3D interactions between cells and pro-inflammatory mediators present in the inflamed synovium.

METHODS: Spheroids were generated by culturing RA fibroblast-like-synoviocytes (RAFLS), human umbilical vein endothelial cells (ECs) and monocyte-derived macrophages in a collagen-based 3D scaffold. The spheroids were cultured in the presence or absence of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and fibroblast growth factor 2 (bFGF) or RA synovial fluid (SF). Spheroid expansion and cell migration were quantified for all conditions using confocal microscopy and digital image analysis.

RESULTS: A novel approach using machine learning was developed to quantify spheroid outgrowth and used to reexamine the existing spheroid-based model of RA synovial angiogenesis consisting of ECs and RAFLS. A 2-fold increase in the spheroid outgrowth ratio was demonstrated upon VEGF/bFGF stimulation (<0.05). The addition of macrophages within the spheroid structure (3.75x10 RAFLS, 7.5x10 ECs and 3.0x10 macrophages) resulted in good incorporation of the new cell type. The addition of VEGF/bFGF significantly induced spheroid outgrowth (<0.05) in the new system. SF stimulation enhanced containment of macrophages within the spheroids.

CONCLUSION: We present a novel spheroid based model consisting of RAFLS, ECs and macrophages that reflects the RA synovial tissue microenvironment. This model may be used to dissect the role of specific cell types in inflammatory responses in RA, to study specific signaling pathways involved in the disease pathogenesis and examine the effects of novel diagnostic (molecular imaging) and therapeutic compounds, including small molecule inhibitors and biologics.

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