Novel Impedance-Based Assay Monitors the Contraction and Relaxation of Smooth Muscle Cells and Fibroblasts in Real-Time

Contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle cells and fibroblasts within the bronchial airways dramatically affects airflow, and being able to modulate these processes is critical for treating asthma and allergic responses. Citing that the traditional assay for monitoring cellular contraction is neither accurate nor reproducible and is laborious, requiring “multiple manual steps and extended experimental time (often several days),” Jianyong Wang and colleagues at Genentech have just described a groundbreaking replacement assay using the xCELLigence RTCA technology. Providing real-time data and requiring just a few hours to complete, this automated approach yields substantial gains in sensitivity and reproducibility along with a dramatically simplified workflow. Collectively, these improvements are expected to accelerate the discovery and optimization of new asthma therapies.

Affecting roughly 8% of the US population and costing more than $50 billion per year, Asthma is characterized by chronic inflammation of the bronchial airways. This causes bronchial smooth muscle cells (BSMCs) and lung fibroblasts to become hyper-contractile, leading to reduced airflow. As a means of studying the contractility of smooth muscle cells and fibroblasts, these cells have traditionally been embedded in a 3D matrix of polymerized collagen in the bottom of a microtiter plate well. Upon treatment with a contraction agonist, the embedded cells shrink in size and thereby cause a reduction in the diameter/surface area of the gelatinous disc, which can then be quantified manually with a ruler or with image analysis software. Besides being labor intensive and requiring large numbers of cells, this gel contraction assay is fraught with technical challenges that make results unreliable. Wang and colleagues surmised that the biosensor…

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