Recent progress in translational engineered in vitro models of the central nervous system

Polyxeni Nikolakopoulou, Rossana Rauti, Dimitrios Voulgaris, Iftach Shlomy, Ben M. Maoz*, Anna Herland*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The complexity of the human brain poses a substantial challenge for the development of models of the CNS. Current animal models lack many essential human characteristics (in addition to raising operational challenges and ethical concerns), and conventional in vitro models, in turn, are limited in their capacity to provide information regarding many functional and systemic responses. Indeed, these challenges may underlie the notoriously low success rates of CNS drug development efforts. During the past 5 years, there has been a leap in the complexity and functionality of in vitro systems of the CNS, which have the potential to overcome many of the limitations of traditional model systems. The availability of human-derived induced pluripotent stem cell technology has further increased the translational potential of these systems. Yet, the adoption of state-of-the-art in vitro platforms within the CNS research community is limited. This may be attributable to the high costs or the immaturity of the systems. Nevertheless, the costs of fabrication have decreased, and there are tremendous ongoing efforts to improve the quality of cell differentiation. Herein, we aim to raise awareness of the capabilities and accessibility of advanced in vitro CNS technologies. We provide an overview of some of the main recent developments (since 2015) in in vitro CNS models. In particular, we focus on engineered in vitro models based on cell culture systems combined with microfluidic platforms (e.g. 'organ-on-a-chip' systems). We delve into the fundamental principles underlying these systems and review several applications of these platforms for the study of the CNS in health and disease. Our discussion further addresses the challenges that hinder the implementation of advanced in vitro platforms in personalized medicine or in large-scale industrial settings, and outlines the existing differentiation protocols and industrial cell sources. We conclude by providing practical guidelines for laboratories that are considering adopting organ-on-a-chip technologies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3181-3213
Number of pages33
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2021


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