The highly ordered organisation of cell types within distinct cell layers is a typical feature of many areas of vertebrate brains, representing a necessary requisite of functional neuronal networks. We study the formation of cell layers both in vivo and in vitro, by using as model systems retinae from chick embryos and neonatal rodents.
As our major in vitro approach, we take advantage of so called retinal spheroids, e.g. the cellular reconstruction of more or less complete 3-dimensional retinal tissue spheres from fully dispersed cells. This technology enables us to define the requirements and constraints of the formation of retinal tissues by a cell-to-cell reaggregation analysis. Noticeably, spheres are fully amenable for molecular intervention towards specific aspects of retinal differentiation, e.g. by use of siRNA techniques.
Retinal spheroids can be used i) for retinal tissue engineering, provided that appropriate stem cells become available, and ii) for developing living biosensors (e.g. testing of environmentally dangerous chemicals, such as pesticides), and thus can become valuable tools to reduce animal experimentation.