A new cell-sized support for 3D cell cultures based on recombinant spider silk fibers

Dganit Stern-Tal, Shmulik Ittah, Ella Sklan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is now generally accepted that 2D cultures cannot accurately replicate the rich environment and complex tissue architecture that exists in vivo, and that classically cultured cells tend to lose their original function. Growth of spheroids as opposed to 2D cultures on plastic has now been hailed as an efficient method to produce quantities of high-quality cells for cancer research, drug discovery, neuroscience, and regenerative medicine. We have developed a new recombinant protein that mimics dragline spidersilk and that self-assembles into cell-sized coils. These have high thermal and shelf-life stability and can be readily sterilized and stored for an extended period of time. The fibers are flexible, elastic, and biocompatible and can serve as cell-sized scaffold for the formation of 3D cell spheroids. As a proof of concept, recombinant spidersilk was integrated as a scaffold in spheroids of three cell types: primary rat hepatocytes, human mesenchymal stem cells, and mouse L929 cells. The scaffolds significantly reduced spheroid shrinkage and unlike scaffold-free spheroids, spheroids did not disintegrate over the course of long-term culture. Cells in recombinant spidersilk spheroids showed increased viability, and the cell lines continued to proliferate for longer than control cultures without spidersilk. The spidersilk also supported biological functions. Recombinant spidersilk primary hepatocyte spheroids exhibited 2.7-fold higher levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) continued to express and secrete albumin and exhibited significantly higher basal and induced CYP3A activity for at least 6 weeks in culture, while control spheroids without fibers stopped producing albumin after 27 days and CPY3A activity was barely detectable after 44 days. These results indicate that recombinant spidersilk can serve as a useful tool for long-term cell culture of 3D cell spheroids and specifically that primary hepatocytes can remain active in culture for an extended period of time which could be of great use in toxicology testing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1748-1757
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Biomaterials Applications
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • 3D cell culture
  • 3D model
  • drug screening model
  • hepatocytes
  • scaffold
  • spheroids
  • spidersilk


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