Fattening chips: hypertrophy, feeding, and fasting of human white adipocytes in vitro†
Adipose is a distributed organ that performs vital endocrine and energy homeostatic functions. Hypertrophy of white adipocytes is a primary mode of both adaptive and maladaptive weight gain in animals and predicts metabolic syndrome independent of obesity. Due to the failure of conventional culture to recapitulate adipocyte hypertrophy, technology for production of adult-size adipocytes would enable applications such as in vitro testing of weight loss therapeutics. To model adaptive adipocyte hypertrophy in vitro, we designed and built fat-on-a-chip using fiber networks inspired by extracellular matrix in adipose tissue. Fiber networks extended the lifespan of differentiated adipocytes, enabling growth to adult sizes. By micropatterning preadipocytes in a native cytoarchitecture and by adjusting cell-to-cell spacing, rates of hypertrophy were controlled independent of culture time or differentiation efficiency. In vitro hypertrophy followed a nonlinear, nonexponential growth model similar to human development and elicited transcriptomic changes that increased overall similarity with primary tissue. Cells on the chip responded to simulated meals and starvation, which potentiated some adipocyte endocrine and metabolic functions. To test the utility of the platform for therapeutic development, transcriptional network analysis was performed, and retinoic acid receptors were identified as candidate drug targets. Regulation by retinoid signaling was suggested further by pharmacological modulation, where activation accelerated and inhibition slowed hypertrophy. Altogether, this work presents technology for mature adipocyte engineering, addresses the regulation of cell growth, and informs broader applications for synthetic adipose in pharmaceutical development, regenerative medicine, and cellular agriculture.