Human vascularised synovium-on-a-chip: a mechanically stimulated, microfluidic model to investigate synovial inflammation and monocyte recruitment

Organ Model: Synovium

Application: Inflammation

Abstract: Healthy synovium is critical for joint homeostasis. Synovial inflammation (synovitis) is implicated in the onset, progression and symptomatic presentation of arthritic joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Thus, the synovium is a promising target for the development of novel, disease-modifying therapeutics. However, target exploration is hampered by a lack of good pre-clinical models that accurately replicate human physiology and that are developed in a way that allows for widespread uptake. The current study presents a multi-channel, microfluidic, organ-on-a-chip (OOAC) model, comprising a 3D configuration of the human synovium and its associated vasculature, with biomechanical and inflammatory stimulation, built upon a commercially available OOAC platform. Healthy human fibroblast-like synoviocytes (hFLS) were co-cultured with human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) with appropriate matrix proteins, separated by a flexible, porous membrane. The model was developed within the Emulate organ-chip platform enabling the application of physiological biomechanical stimulation in the form of fluid shear and cyclic tensile strain. The hFLS exhibited characteristic morphology, cytoskeletal architecture and matrix protein deposition. Synovial inflammation was initiated through the addition of interleukin-1?(IL-1?) into the synovium channel resulting in the increased secretion of inflammatory and catabolic mediators, interleukin-6 (IL-6), prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), matrix metalloproteinase 1 (MMP-1), as well as the synovial fluid constituent protein, hyaluronan. Enhanced expression of the inflammatory marker, intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), was observed in HUVECs in the vascular channel, accompanied by increased attachment of circulating monocytes. This vascularised human synovium-on-a-chip model recapitulates a number of the functional characteristics of both healthy and inflamed human synovium. Thus, this model offers the first human synovium organ-chip suitable for widespread adoption to understand synovial joint disease mechanisms, permit the identification of novel therapeutic targets and support pre-clinical testing of therapies.