Synaptic microcircuit modeling with 3D cocultures of astrocytes and neurons from human pluripotent stem cells

Caroline Cvetkovic, Nupur Basu, Robert Krencik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


A barrier to our understanding of how various cell types and signals contribute to synaptic circuit function is the lack of relevant models for studying the human brain. One emerging technology to address this issue is the use of three dimensional (3D) neural cell cultures, termed 'organoids' or 'spheroids', for long term preservation of intercellular interactions including extracellular adhesion molecules. However, these culture systems are time consuming and not systematically generated. Here, we detail a method to rapidly and consistently produce 3D cocultures of neurons and astrocytes from human pluripotent stem cells. First, pre-differentiated astrocytes and neuronal progenitors are dissociated and counted. Next, cells are combined in sphere-forming dishes with a Rho-Kinase inhibitor and at specific ratios to produce spheres of reproducible size. After several weeks of culture as floating spheres, cocultures ('asteroids') are finally sectioned for immunostaining or plated upon multielectrode arrays to measure synaptic density and strength. In general, it is expected that this protocol will yield 3D neural spheres that display mature cell-type restricted markers, form functional synapses, and exhibit spontaneous synaptic network burst activity. Together, this system permits drug screening and investigations into mechanisms of disease in a more suitable model compared to monolayer cultures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere58034
JournalJournal of visualized experiments : JoVE
Issue number138
StatePublished - Aug 16 2018


  • Astrocytes
  • Bioreactor
  • Coculture
  • Developmental biology
  • Issue 138
  • Multielectrode array
  • Neurons
  • Organoid
  • Stem cells
  • Synapses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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