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  • Improvement of paracellular transport in the Caco-2 drug screening model using protein-engineered substrates BIOMATERIALS Dimarco, R. L., Hunt, D. R., Dewi, R. E., Heilshorn, S. C. 2017; 129: 152-162


    The Caco-2 assay has achieved wide popularity among pharmaceutical companies in the past two decades as an in vitro method for estimation of in vivo oral bioavailability of pharmaceutical compounds during preclinical characterization. Despite its popularity, this assay suffers from a severe underprediction of the transport of drugs which are absorbed paracellularly, that is, which pass through the cell-cell tight junctions of the absorptive cells of the small intestine. Here, we propose that simply replacing the collagen I matrix employed in the standard Caco-2 assay with an engineered matrix, we can control cell morphology and hence regulate the cell-cell junctions that dictate paracellular transport. Specifically, we use a biomimetic engineered extracellular matrix (eECM) that contains modular protein domains derived from two ECM proteins found in the small intestine, fibronectin and elastin. This eECM allows us to independently tune the density of cell-adhesive RGD ligands presented to Caco-2 cells as well as the mechanical stiffness of the eECM. We observe that lower amounts of RGD ligand presentation as well as decreased matrix stiffness results in Caco-2 morphologies that more closely resemble primary small intestinal epithelial cells than Caco-2 cells cultured on collagen. Additionally, these matrices result in Caco-2 monolayers with decreased recruitment of actin to the apical junctional complex and increased expression of claudin-2, a tight junction protein associated with higher paracellular permeability that is highly expressed throughout the small intestine. Consistent with these morphological differences, drugs known to be paracellularly transported in vivo exhibited significantly improved transport rates in this modified Caco-2 model. As expected, permeability of transcellularly transported drugs remained unaffected. Thus, we have demonstrated a method of improving the physiological accuracy of the Caco-2 assay that could be readily adopted by pharmaceutical companies without major changes to their current testing protocols.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2017.03.023

    View details for Web of Science ID 000399256500011

    View details for PubMedID 28342321