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Quantitative Phenotypic Image Analysis of Three-Dimensional Organotypic Cultures

Part of the Methods in Molecular Biology book series (MIMB,volume 1612)


Glandular epithelial cells differentiate into three-dimensional (3D) multicellular or acinar structures, particularly when embedded in laminin-rich extracellular matrix (ECM). The spectrum of different multicellular morphologies formed in 3D is a reliable indicator for the differentiation potential of normal, non-transformed cells compared to different stages of malignant progression. Motile cancer cells may actively invade the matrix, utilizing epithelial, mesenchymal, or mixed modes of motility. Dynamic phenotypic changes involved in 3D tumor cell invasion are also very sensitive to small-molecule inhibitors that, e.g., target the actin cytoskeleton. Our strategy is to recapitulate the formation and the histology of complex solid cancer tissues in vitro, based on cell culture technologies that promote the intrinsic differentiation potential of normal and transformed epithelial cells, and also including stromal fibroblasts and other key components of the tumor microenvironment. We have developed a streamlined stand-alone software solution that supports the detailed quantitative phenotypic analysis of organotypic 3D cultures. This approach utilizes the power of automated image analysis as a phenotypic readout in cell-based assays. AMIDA (Automated Morphometric Image Data Analysis) allows quantitative measurements of a large number of multicellular structures, which can form a multitude of different organoid shapes, sizes, and textures according to their capacity to engage in epithelial differentiation programs or not. At the far end of this spectrum of tumor-relevant differentiation properties, there are highly invasive tumor cells or multicellular structures that may rapidly invade the surrounding ECM, but fail to form higher-order epithelial tissue structures. Furthermore, this system allows us to monitor dynamic changes that can result from the extraordinary plasticity of tumor cells, e.g., epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition in live cell settings. Furthermore, AMIDA supports an automated workflow, and can be combined with quality control and statistical tools for data interpretation and visualization. Our approach supports the growing needs for user-friendly, straightforward solutions that facilitate cell-based organotypic 3D assays in basic research, drug discovery, and target validation.

Key words

  • Morphology
  • Organoid
  • Extracellular matrix
  • Image data analysis
  • Phenotypic screening
  • Drug discovery
  • Target validation

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4939-7021-6_31
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This work was supported by Academy of Finland (grant no. 267326), and K. Albin Johannson’s Foundation.

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Correspondence to Matthias Nees Ph.D. .

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Åkerfelt, M., Toriseva, M., Nees, M. (2017). Quantitative Phenotypic Image Analysis of Three-Dimensional Organotypic Cultures. In: Koledova, Z. (eds) 3D Cell Culture. Methods in Molecular Biology, vol 1612. Humana Press, New York, NY.

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  • Print ISBN: 978-1-4939-7019-3

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