The role of actin filaments and microtubules in hepatocyte spheroid self-assembly

Emmanouhl S. Tzanakakis, Linda K. Hansen, Wei Shou Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Cultured rat hepatocytes self-assemble into three-dimensional structures or spheroids that exhibit ultrastructural characteristics of native hepatic tissue and enhanced liver-specific functions. The spheroid formation process involves cell translocation and changes in cell shape, indicative of the reorganization of the cytoskeletal elements. To elucidate the function of the cytoskeleton, hepatocytes undergoing spheroid formation were treated with drugs that disrupt the different cytoskeletal components. Cytochalasin D, which targets the actin filaments, caused inhibition of spheroid formation. The role of microtubules in this process was assessed by incubating the cells with taxol or nocodazole. Perturbation of microtubules had minimal effects on spheroid assembly. Scanning electron micrographs showed no morphological differences between spheroids formed in control cultures and those formed in the presence of taxol or nocodazole. In addition, the effects of those agents on hepatocyte functions were investigated. Albumin secretion and cytochrome P450 2B1/2 activities of hepatocytes were comparable in spheroids formed in the presence of taxol or nocodazole to those formed in control cultures. The levels of these liver-specific activities were lower in cytochalasin D-treated cultures where only dispersed cells or cell clumps were found but spheroids had not found. Thus, hepatocytes require an intact actin network to self-assemble efficiently into functional tissue-like structures. Perturbation of the microtubule lattice does not impair the formation process. Events that transpire during hepatocyte spheroid self-assembly exhibit striking similarities to processes commonly observed in tissue morphogenesis. The results provide insight into the mechanisms that cells employ to organize into tissues and can contribute to our understanding of how to control the cellular assembly in tissue engineering and clinical applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-189
Number of pages15
JournalCell Motility and the Cytoskeleton
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001


  • Actin filaments
  • Cytochalasin D
  • Hepatocyte spheroids
  • Microtubules
  • Nocodazole
  • Self-assembly
  • Taxol


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