Understanding the complex communication between different cell populations and their interaction with the microenvironment in the central and peripheral nervous systems is fundamental in neuroscience research. The development of appropriate in vitro approaches and tools, able to selectively analyze and/or probe specific cells and cell portions (e.g., axons and cell bodies in neurons), driving their differentiation into specific cell phenotypes, has become therefore crucial in this direction. Here we report a multi-compartment microfluidic device where up to three different cell populations can be cultured in a fluidically independent circuit. The device allows cell migration across the compartments and their differentiation. We showed that an accurate choice of the device geometrical features and cell culture parameters allows to (1) maximize cell adhesion and proliferation of neuron-like human cells (SH-SY5Y cells), (2) control the inter-compartment cell migration of neuron and Schwann cells, (3) perform long-term cell culture studies in which both SH-SY5Y cells and primary rat Schwann cells can be differentiated towards specific phenotypes. These results can lead to a plethora of in vitro co-culture studies in the neuroscience research field, where tuning and investigating cell-cell and cell-microenvironment interactions are essential.
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