We have designed and validated a set of robust and non-toxic protocols for directly evaluating the properties of engineered neural tissue. These protocols characterize the mechanical properties of engineered neural tissues and measure their electrophysical activity. The protocols obtain elastic moduli of very soft fibrin hydrogel scaffolds and voltage readings from motor neuron cultures. Neurons require soft substrates to differentiate and mature, however measuring the elastic moduli of soft substrates remains difficult to accurately measure using standard protocols such as atomic force microscopy or shear rheology. Here we validate a direct method for acquiring elastic modulus of fibrin using a modified Hertz model for thin films. In this method, spherical indenters are positioned on top of the fibrin samples, generating an indentation depth that is then correlated with elastic modulus. Neurons function by transmitting electrical signals to one another and being able to assess the development of electrical signaling serves is an important verification step when engineering neural tissues. We then validated a protocol wherein the electrical activity of motor neural cultures is measured directly by a voltage sensitive dye and a microplate reader without causing damage to the cells. These protocols provide a non-destructive method for characterizing the mechanical and electrical properties of living spinal cord tissues using novel biosensing methods.
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