Monitoring cancer cell invasion and t-cell cytotoxicity in 3d culture

Yuan Na Lin, Apsra Nasir, Sharon Camacho, Deborah L. Berry, Marcel O. Schmidt, Gray W. Pearson, Anna T. Riegel, Anton Wellstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Significant progress has been made in treating cancer with immunotherapy, although a large number of cancers remain resistant to treatment. A limited number of assays allow for direct monitoring and mechanistic insights into the interactions between tumor and immune cells, amongst which, T-cells play a significant role in executing the cytotoxic response of the adaptive immune system to cancer cells. Most assays are based on two-dimensional (2D) co-culture of cells due to the relative ease of use but with limited representation of the invasive growth phenotype, one of the hallmarks of cancer cells. Current three-dimensional (3D) co-culture systems either require special equipment or separate monitoring for invasion of co-cultured cancer cells and interacting T-cells. Here we describe an approach to simultaneously monitor the invasive behavior in 3D of cancer cell spheroids and T-cell cytotoxicity in co-culture. Spheroid formation is driven by enhanced cell-cell interactions in scaffold-free agarose microwell casts with U-shaped bottoms. Both T-cell co-culture and cancer cell invasion into type I collagen matrix are performed within the microwells of the agarose casts without the need to transfer the cells, thus maintaining an intact 3D co-culture system throughout the assay. The collagen matrix can be separated from the agarose cast, allowing for immunofluorescence (IF) staining and for confocal imaging of cells. Also, cells can be isolated for further growth or subjected to analyses such as for gene expression or fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS). Finally, the 3D co-culture can be analyzed by immunohistochemistry (IHC) after embedding and sectioning. Possible modifications of the assay include altered compositions of the extracellular matrix (ECM) as well as the inclusion of different stromal or immune cells with the cancer cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere61392
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number160
StatePublished - Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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