3D alveolar in vitro model based on epithelialized biomimetically curved culture membranes

D. Baptista, L. Moreira Teixeira, Z. Tahmasebi Birgani, S. van Riet, T. Pasman, A. Poot, D. Stamatialis, R. J. Rottier, P. S. Hiemstra, P. Habibović, C. van Blitterswijk, S. Giselbrecht, R. Truckenmüller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
373 Downloads (Pure)


There is increasing evidence that surface curvature at a near-cell-scale influences cell behaviour. Epithelial or endothelial cells lining small acinar or tubular body lumens, as those of the alveoli or blood vessels, experience such highly curved surfaces. In contrast, the most commonly used culture substrates for in vitro modelling of these human tissue barriers, ion track-etched membranes, offer only flat surfaces. Here, we propose a more realistic culture environment for alveolar cells based on biomimetically curved track-etched membranes, preserving the mainly spherical geometry of the cells’ native microenvironment. The curved membranes were created by a combination of three-dimensional (3D) micro film (thermo)forming and ion track technology. We could successfully demonstrate the formation, the growth and a first characterization of confluent layers of lung epithelial cell lines and primary alveolar epithelial cells on membranes shaped into an array of hemispherical microwells. Besides their application in submerged culture, we could also demonstrate the compatibility of the bioinspired membranes for air-exposed culture. We observed a distinct cellular response to membrane curvature. Cells (or cell layers) on the curved membranes reveal significant differences compared to cells on flat membranes concerning membrane epithelialization, areal cell density of the formed epithelial layers, their cross-sectional morphology, and proliferation and apoptosis rates, and the same tight barrier function as on the flat membranes. The presented 3D membrane technology might pave the way for more predictive barrier in vitro models in future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120436
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • UT-Hybrid-D
  • Biomimetics
  • Curvature
  • In vitro models
  • Ion track-etched membranes
  • Microthermoforming
  • Alveolar epithelial cells


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