Patient-derived in vitro skin models for investigation of small fiber pathology
Objective: To establish individually expandable primary fibroblast and keratinocyte cultures from 3-mm skin punch biopsies for patient-derived in vitro skin models to investigate of small fiber pathology. Methods: We obtained 6-mm skin punch biopsies from the calf of two patients with small fiber neuropathy (SFN) and two healthy controls. One half (3 mm) was used for diagnostic intraepidermal nerve fiber density (IENFD). From the second half, we isolated and cultured fibroblasts and keratinocytes. Cells were used to generate patient-derived full-thickness three-dimensional (3D) skin models containing a dermal and epidermal component. Cells and skin models were characterized morphologically, immunocyto- and -histochemically (vimentin, cytokeratin (CK)-10, CK 14, ki67, collagen1, and procollagen), and by electrical impedance. Results: Distal IENFD was reduced in the SFN patients (2 fibers/mm each), while IENFD was normal in the controls (8 fibers/mm, 7 fibers/mm). Two-dimensional (2D) cultured skin cells showed normal morphology, adequate viability, and proliferation, and expressed cell-specific markers without relevant difference between SFN patient and healthy control. Using 2D cultured fibroblasts and keratinocytes, we obtained subject-derived 3D skin models. Morphology of the 3D model was analogous to the respective skin biopsy specimens. Both, the dermal and the epidermal layer carried cell-specific markers and showed a homogenous expression of extracellular matrix proteins. Interpretation: Our protocol allows the generation of disease-specific 2D and 3D skin models, which can be used to investigate the cross-talk between skin cells and sensory neurons in small fiber pathology.