Toward the goal of understanding the pathophysiology of mild blast-induced traumatic brain injury and identifying the physical forces associated with the primary injury phase, we developed a system that couples a pneumatic blast to a microfluidic channel to precisely and reproducibly deliver shear transients to dissociated human central nervous system (CNS) cells, on a timescale comparable to an explosive blast but with minimal pressure transients. Using fluorescent beads, we have characterized the shear transients experienced by the cells and demonstrate that the system is capable of accurately and reproducibly delivering uniform shear transients with minimal pressure across the cell culture volume. This system is compatible with high-resolution, time-lapse optical microscopy. Using this system, we demonstrate that blast-like shear transients produced with minimal pressure transients and submillisecond rise times activate calcium responses in dissociated human CNS cultures. Cells respond with increased cytosolic free calcium to a threshold shear stress between 8 and 21 Pa; the propagation of this calcium response is a result of purinergic signaling. We propose that this system models, in vitro, the fundamental injury wave produced by shear forces consequent to blast shock waves passing through density inhomogeneity in human CNS cells.
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