Engineering Three-dimensional Epithelial Tissues Embedded within Extracellular Matrix.
The architecture of branched organs such as the lungs, kidneys, and mammary glands arises through the developmental process of branching morphogenesis, which is regulated by a variety of soluble and physical signals in the microenvironment. Described here is a method created to study the process of branching morphogenesis by forming engineered three-dimensional (3D) epithelial tissues of defined shape and size that are completely embedded within an extracellular matrix (ECM). This method enables the formation of arrays of identical tissues and enables the control of a variety of environmental factors, including tissue geometry, spacing, and ECM composition. This method can also be combined with widely used techniques such as traction force microscopy (TFM) to gain more information about the interactions between cells and their surrounding ECM. The protocol can be used to investigate a variety of cell and tissue processes beyond branching morphogenesis, including cancer invasion.