An ongoing challenge in biomedical research is the search for simple, yet robust assays using 3D cell cultures for toxicity screening. This study addresses that challenge with a novel spheroid assay, wherein spheroids, formed by magnetic 3D bioprinting, contract immediately as cells rearrange and compact the spheroid in relation to viability and cytoskeletal organization. Thus, spheroid size can be used as a simple metric for toxicity. The goal of this study was to validate spheroid contraction as a cytotoxic endpoint using 3T3 fibroblasts in response to 5 toxic compounds (all-trans retinoic acid, dexamethasone, doxorubicin, 5′-fluorouracil, forskolin), sodium dodecyl sulfate (+control), and penicillin-G (−control). Real-time imaging was performed with a mobile device to increase throughput and efficiency. All compounds but penicillin-G significantly slowed contraction in a dose-dependent manner (Z’ = 0.88). Cells in 3D were more resistant to toxicity than cells in 2D, whose toxicity was measured by the MTT assay. Fluorescent staining and gene expression profiling of spheroids confirmed these findings. The results of this study validate spheroid contraction within this assay as an easy, biologically relevant endpoint for high-throughput compound screening in representative 3D environments.
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