A Three-Dimensional Spheroid Model to Investigate the Tumor-Stromal Interaction in Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Marco Y W Zaki, Shishir Shetty, Alex L Wilkinson, Daniel A Patten, Fiona Oakley, Helen Reeves

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The aggressiveness and lack of well-tolerated and widely effective treatments for advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the predominant form of liver cancer, rationalize its rank as the second most common cause of cancer-related death. Preclinical models need to be adapted to recapitulate the human conditions to select the best therapeutic candidates for clinical development and aid the delivery of personalized medicine. Three-dimensional (3D) cellular spheroid models show promise as an emerging in vitro alternative to two-dimensional (2D) monolayer cultures. Here, we describe a 3D tumor spheroid model which exploits the ability of individual cells to aggregate when maintained in hanging droplets, and is more representative of an in vivo environment than standard monolayers. Furthermore, 3D spheroids can be produced by combining homotypic or heterotypic cells, more reflective of the cellular heterogeneity in vivo, potentially enabling the study of environmental interactions that can influence progression and treatment responses. The current research optimized the cell density to form 3D homotypic and heterotypic tumor spheroids by immobilizing cell suspensions on the lids of standard 10 cm3 Petri dishes. Longitudinal analysis was performed to generate growth curves for homotypic versus heterotypic tumor/fibroblasts spheroids. Finally, the proliferative impact of fibroblasts (COS7 cells) and liver myofibroblasts (LX2) on homotypic tumor (Hep3B) spheroids was investigated. A seeding density of 3,000 cells (in 20 µL media) successfully yielded Huh7/COS7 heterotypic spheroids, which displayed a steady increase in size up to culture day 8, followed by growth retardation. This finding was corroborated using Hep3B homotypic spheroids cultured in LX2 (human hepatic stellate cell line) conditioned medium (CM). LX2 CM triggered the proliferation of Hep3B spheroids compared to control tumor spheroids. In conclusion, this protocol has shown that 3D tumor spheroids can be used as a simple, economical, and prescreen in vitro tool to study tumor-stromal interactions more comprehensively.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere62868
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number175
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2021


  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular
  • Cell Line
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms
  • Spheroids, Cellular


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