Optogenetically Engineered Neurons Differentiated from Human SH-SY5Y Cells Survived and Expressed ChR2 in 3D Hydrogel

Si-Yuen Lee, Julian George, David Nagel, Hua Ye, Leonard Seymour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The cases of brain degenerative disease will rise as the human population ages. Current treatments have a transient effect and lack an investigative system that is physiologically relevant for testing. There is evidence suggesting optogenetic stimulation is a potential strategy; however, an in vitro disease and optogenetic model requires a three-dimensional microenvironment. Alginate is a promising material for tissue and optogenetic engineering. Although it is bioinert, alginate hydrogel is transparent and therefore allows optical penetration for stimulation. In this study, alginate was functionalized with arginine-glycine-aspartate acid (RGD) to serve as a 3D platform for encapsulation of human SH-SY5Y cells, which were optogenetically modified and characterized. The RGD-alginate hydrogels were tested for swelling and degradation. Prior to encapsulation, the cells were assessed for neuronal expression and optical-stimulation response. The results showed that RGD-alginate possessed a consistent swelling ratio of 18% on day 7, and degradation remained between 3.7-5% throughout 14 days. Optogenetically modified SH-SY5Y cells were highly viable (>85%) after lentiviral transduction and neuronal differentiation. The cells demonstrated properties of functional neurons, developing beta III tubulin (TuJ1)-positive long neurites, forming neural networks, and expressing vGlut2. Action potentials were produced upon optical stimulation. The neurons derived from human SH-SY5Y cells were successfully genetically modified and encapsulated; they survived and expressed ChR2 in an RGD-alginate hydrogel system.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1534
Pages (from-to)1534
Number of pages17
Issue number7
Early online date28 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright: © 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https:// creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).


  • 3D culture
  • RGD-alginate
  • SH-SY5Y cells
  • hydrogels
  • neuronal differentiation
  • optogenetics
  • channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2)
  • neurodegenerative disease


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