We have developed a novel bioreactor based on the observation that isolated porcine hepatocytes rapidly and spontaneously aggregate into spheroids under oscillation conditions. The purpose of this study was to characterize the influence of oscillation frequency (0.125 Hz, 0.25 Hz), cell density (1-10 × 106 cells/mL), and storage condition (fresh, cryopreserved) of porcine hepatocytes on the kinetics of spheroid formation. The viability and metabolic performance of spheroid hepatocytes was also compared to monolayer culture. We observed that both fresh and cryopreserved porcine hepatocytes began formation of spheroids spontaneously at the onset of oscillation culture. Spheroid size was directly related to cell density and time in culture, though inversely related to oscillatory frequency. Spheroid formation by fresh porcine hepatocytes was associated with decreased cell death (lactate dehydrogenase release, 1.3 ± 1.0 vs. 3.1 ± 0.7 U/mL, P < 0.05) and increased metabolic performance (albumin production, 14.7 ± 3.3 vs. 4.6 ± 1.4 fg/c/h, P < 0.0001; ureagenesis from ammonia, 267 ± 63 vs. 92 ± 13 μmol/L/h, P < 0.001) compared with monolayer culture. In conclusion, based on the favorable properties of rapid spheroid formation, increased hepatocellular function, and ease of scale-up, the spheroid reservoir bioreactor warrants further investigation as a bioartificial liver for support of liver failure.
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