3D-printed gelatin scaffolds of differing pore geometry modulate hepatocyte function and gene expression

Three dimensional (3D) printing is highly amenable to the fabrication of tissue-engineered organs of a repetitive microstructure such as the liver. The creation of uniform and geometrically repetitive tissue scaffolds can also allow for the control over cellular aggregation and nutrient diffusion. However, the effect of differing geometries, while controlling for pore size, has yet to be investigated in the context of hepatocyte function. In this study, we show the ability to precisely control pore geometry of 3D-printed gelatin scaffolds. An undifferentiated hepatocyte cell line (HUH7) demonstrated high viability and proliferation when seeded on 3D-printed scaffolds of two different geometries. However, hepatocyte specific functions (albumin secretion, CYP activity, and bile transport) increases in more interconnected 3D-printed gelatin cultures compared to a less interconnected geometry and to 2D controls. Additionally, we also illustrate the disparity between gene expression and protein function in simple 2D culture modes, and that recreation of a physiologically mimetic 3D environment is necessary to induce both expression and function of cultured hepatocytes.